The first of what will likely be a tsunami of COVID-19-related lawsuits against cruise ship companies came Wednesday when nine Northern California plaintiffs filed suit against Princess Cruise Lines and parent company Carnival Corp.
The group of passengers had been among the more than 2,000 who traveled from San Francisco to Hawaii on the Grand Princess cruise that departed on February 21. By February 25, news emerged that a passenger on an earlier leg of the cruise itinerary, traveling from SF to Mexico and back, had died — the Placer County man became the first California fatality from the coronavirus. The Grand Princess, at this point with some crew members already showing symptoms and getting medically evacuated in Hawaii, turned back to the U.S. mainland, skipping a planned stop in Mexico — and as we all remember from last month the ship was held offshore for several days while 45 passengers and crew received coronavirus tests. 21 turned up positive, 19 of them crew members, but the virus had clearly been spreading on the ship undetected, and 103 people would ultimately test positive, with two passengers and one crew member now dead. The ship docked in Oakland on March 9, and passengers were then shuttled into quarantine at Travis Air Force Base and elsewhere.
As KPIX reports, the lawsuit alleges that Princess Cruise Lines was negligent in isolating passengers in their cabins until March 5, and in failing to inform passengers of the death of the Placer County man. Also, the suit alleges that the cruise company failed to tell people that several passengers on the Mexico trip had shown coronavirus symptoms — something that had not been previously reported.
In a statement to KPIX, plaintiffs' attorney Mary Alexander said, "Carnival and Princess Cruise Lines negligently put thousands of passengers at risk of serious harm, which risk will continue for some time." Referring to the crew members that continued on from the initial Mexico trip, Alexander said, "Well over a thousand potentially infected individuals were allowed to share confined space with another nearly 2,000 uninfected passengers, casually and callously exposing all to COVID-19."
The lawsuit, which looks to be certified as a class-action suit on behalf of all the passengers on board, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for lost earnings, medical expenses, and emotional distress.
Princess Cruises issued a statement responding indirectly to the lawsuit, saying, "Princess Cruises has been sensitive to the difficulties the COVID-19 outbreak has caused to our guests and crew. Our response throughout this process has focused on the wellbeing of our guests and crew within the parameters dictated to us by the government agencies involved and the evolving medical understanding of this new illness."
Meanwhile, the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns continues to try to bring attention to the cause of the several hundred crew members who remain stuck on the ship, most of them reportedly Filipino nationals. One crew member who was taken to a San Francisco hospital has since died, and according to a release on Thursday, Princess Cruises has confirmed that there is still one positive COVID-19 patient on board the boat.
The ship left the Port of SF on Wednesday without allowing anyone to disembark, after stopping for supplies.
"It is outrageous that Princess Cruises has yet to disclose specific plans for the hundreds of crew members remaining on board," says activist and president of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns Terry Valen. "The cruise company should have decommissioned the ship then and treated the health and safety of all of the workers on board with as much importance as the 2000+ passengers, on shore and all the way home."
Jenabi Pareja of Migrante USA said in a statement that Princess Cruises should be held liable for the crew's safety, saying, "We know that some Grand Princess workers who were repatriated to the Philippines last month ended up testing positive for COVID-19, when they originally were asymptomatic. By not testing all its workers, Princess Cruises has put these seafarers and their families in danger."