US lawmakers open probe into coronavirus infections on Carnival cruise ships

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A woman wearing a face mask as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, runs with Cruise Ships docked in the background at the port of Long Beach, California on April 11, 2020.

Apu Gomes | AFP | Getty Images

The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on Friday called for Carnival Corp to hand over a slew of documents related to its response to coronavirus outbreaks on its ships that infected more than 1,500 and killed dozens of people. 

The committee, which says it has jurisdiction over maritime transportation issues, made the requests in letters sent to Carnival CEO Arnold Donald, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calling cruise ships “a fertile breeding ground for infectious diseases.”

“We would hope that the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic will place a renewed emphasis on public health and passenger safety, but frankly that has not been seen up to this point,” the letter reads. “It seems as though Carnival Corporation and its portfolio of nine cruise lines, which represents 109 cruise ships, is still trying to sell this cruise line fantasy and ignoring the public health threat.”

Representatives of Carnival did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The letter is signed by Peter DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat who chairs the committee, and Sean Maloney, the New York Democrat and chair of the maritime transportation subcommittee. The congressmen requested a range of documents from the company, including all records that reference the coronavirus.

While the entire cruise industry has been rocked by the coronavirus pandemic, Carnival, which is the largest cruise company in the world, has been at the center of several high-profile outbreaks on its vessels. Its Diamond Princess was quarantined at a Japanese port in one of the first major outbreaks outside of China, where the virus emerged in December.

Carnival Corp’s fleet of 109 ships have had an unusually high number of outbreaks, the letter says. The letter adds that at least nine Carnival-owned ships have reported Covid-19 outbreaks, which have infected more than 1,500 people and killed at least 39 people.

“Our Committee, the U.S. Congress, and the American public need to be assured that the global cruise line industry, and Carnival Corporation & PLC in particular, are instituting necessary measures to ensure that the safety of the traveling public and crew members will be your number one priority when your ships set sail again.”

Shares of Carnival were down more than 11% on Friday. The company’s stock is down more than 70% since Jan. 1.

In an April 14 interview with CNBC, Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said he has high hopes for how the industry will bounce back after the coronavirus pandemic.

“Travel is going to return, travel and leisure, and when it does, we’ll return with it. Social gathering at some point will return, and when it does, people will want to cruise,” he said on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”

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