A spate of novel coronavirus outbreaks aboard cruise ships have pushed back Seattle’s cruise ship season by at least two weeks this year, the Port of Seattle announced Wednesday.
The Port has canceled the first two cruise sailings of 2020, including the April 1 port call by Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess, the site of two coronavirus outbreaks over the past month.
“As we grapple with this situation and respond to events minute by minute as they unfold, our top priority is and must be public safety and security,” Port of Seattle Commission President Peter Steinbrueck said at a news conference. “We are doing everything possible to curtail the spreading coronavirus.”
A coronavirus outbreak aboard the Diamond Princess in early February, as the vessel transited the coast of Japan, sickened nearly 700 people. In headlines, the ship was likened to a floating disease colony.
Two other Princess Cruises vessels were briefly held at sea early this week after onboarding staff from the Grand Princess. Those staff subsequently tested negative for the disease and passengers were allowed to disembark.
The other canceled sailing was the April 5 port call of Celebrity Eclipse. Both of the canceled sailings are “port of call” sailings, meaning the vessel stops for one day in Seattle as part of a longer itinerary.
Now, the first cruise ship scheduled to dock in Seattle will be Holland America’s Eurodam on April 15.
That could be pushed back further, depending on the spread of the virus. The Port said in a statement that it would work with public health officials, cruise lines and local leaders to “continue to evaluate the public health landscape … (to) determine the appropriate start to the cruise season.”
As of now, however, “the predictions aren’t real rosy, though, as far as getting a handle on containing the spread of the virus,” Steinbrueck said.
Federal officials have repeatedly recommended that Americans avoid getting on cruise ships, especially if they have pre-existing medical conditions. And starting Wednesday, passengers 70 and older will need to produce a doctor’s note asserting they are healthy enough to take a cruise before they are allowed to board the vessel.
Cruise season in Seattle generates nearly $900 million in business activity and supports 5,500 jobs, according to the Port. This year, the Port anticipated a record 1.3 million cruise passengers would transit Seattle.
“Without a doubt, there are pretty significant economic implications” of canceling the two sailings, Steinbrueck said, though the Port hasn’t calculated the precise blow to the economy.
Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle, said he didn’t anticipate canceling two cruises would materially add to the economic pain that downtown restaurants and hotels are already experiencing from the coronavirus outbreak.
“Right now, we hope we’re at a low,” he said. The cancellations “probably will have minimal impact given the severity of what we’ve been living through for the past few weeks.”