Tourism & Cruises

Trump talking to Micky Arison about using Carnival cruise ships in COVID-19 response

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Carnival Corporation is offering governments its cruise ships to use as hospitals for non-COVID-19 patients in an effort to free up space in land-based hospitals for those suffering from the coronavirus.

President Donald Trump said he spoke with Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison on Thursday morning about the possibility of using the cruise company’s ships as part of the federal COVID-19 pandemic response. He added that the administration has not agreed to the offer and wanted to talk it over with governors from New York and California.

“Well you could increase places to stay. Let’s say, places to stay — if it works,” Trump said at a press conference Thursday. “I don’t know, maybe people won’t want them. But he made the offer, it was a very generous offer. And he said that he has some ships that would be ideally suited for what we’re doing. And certainly, they have a lot of rooms. They’re big, and they have a lot of rooms. So we appreciate it from Carnival.”

The White House has not offered an explanation for why the United States government would use cruise ships as temporary hospitals over vacant hotels or other land-based facilities.

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On Wednesday, President Trump announced that two U.S. Navy hospital ships are being de ployed as part of the federal COVID-19 response. The USNS Comfort will head to New York City and the USNS Mercy will be based somewhere on the West Coast. Each is equipped with operating rooms and labs.

Cruise ship hospitals

Miami-based Carnival Corp., the largest cruise company in the world, said in a statement that it can turn its ships into temporary hospitals that would dock at ports near communities in need. The ship’s existing crew would provide cleaning and food service and the medical service would be provided by the government or hospital that takes the company up on its offer. On-board medical clinics can provide up to seven intensive care units, the statement said.

“If needed, cruise ships are capable of being quickly provisioned to serve as hospitals with up to 1,000 hospital rooms that can treat patients suffering from less critical, non-COVID-19 conditions,” the company said in a statement. “As part of the offer, interested parties will be asked to cover only the essential costs of the ship’s operations while in port.”

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Roger Frizzell, a spokesperson for the company, said food and beverage would be donated by the company. The statement said ships from four of the company’s nine cruise lines are available — Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises Australia.

The offer served as a shot in the arm for the company’s share price Thursday, which closed at $10 per share, up 7.53%.

Shares for rivals Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. experienced slight bumps too. Royal Caribbean shares closed at $22.44, up 0.49%, and Norwegian shares closed at $8.20, up 5.53%. A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean declined to comment on whether the company is considering making a similar offer. Norwegian Cruise Line did not respond to a request for comment.

The offer comes as the industry is on hold.

Cruise companies opted to stop cruising for at least 30 days last week after dozens of passengers and former passengers tested positive for COVID-19 since January.

Royal Caribbean has laid off contract workers to reduce expenses. Norwegian Cruise Line will cut salaried employee pay by 20%, according to Business Insider. Frizzell, the spokesperson for Carnival Corp., said the company has not had any layoffs or furloughs to date.

Several ships that were sailing with passengers aboard when the hiatus was announced are still at sea, looking for countries that will allow them to dock. Hawaii announced Wednesday that two cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers — Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jewel and Holland America Line’s Maasdam — will not be able to offload anyone when they arrive on Friday and Sunday, but only fill up on fuel and food.

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The U.S. government has warned Americans to stay away from cruise ships at this time to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a Level Three travel warning in place for cruise ships, its highest level.

“Cruise passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19,” the CDC website says.

The CDC no-sail order for cruise ships also warns that the coronavirus can spread via “frequently touched surfaces” on cruise ships, including elevator buttons, handrails and passageways.

The CDC declined to comment on the idea of using cruise ships as hospitals on Thursday and referred questions to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which referred questions to Vice President Mike Pence’s office. A spokeswoman for the vice president did not respond to a request for comment.

Cruise ships to the rescue

This is not the first time Carnival Corp. has offered its cruise ships to governments in times of need.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency struck a $236 million deal with Carnival Corp. to house evacuees and federal workers on three of its ships.

FEMA signed a similar $74.7 million agreement with Carnival Corp. after Hurricanes Irma and Maria to house federal workers on one of its ships in the U.S. Virgin Islands. WLRN found that the ship hosted less than half the federal workers than was agreed to in the deal, which gave Carnival Corp. $834 per person per night.

The company’s chairman, Arison, who also owns the Miami Heat N.B.A. team, has long been an acquaintance of Trump’s. The Washington Post reported that Carnival Corp. helped sponsor Trump’s reality television show “The Apprentice,” and the two men have exchanged congratulatory tweets over the years.

Trump fundraiser Brian Ballard, Pam Bondi — the former Florida attorney general who defended Trump during his impeachment trial — and her sister-in-law Tandy Bondi were registered lobbyists for Carnival Corp. in 2019, as first reported by the Post.

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