by Jan M. Olsen, Associated Press | August 03, 2020
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) - A Norwegian cruise ship line has halted all trips and apologized Monday for procedural errors after an outbreak of the coronavirus on one ship infected at least 5 passengers and 36 crew. Health authorities fear the ship also could have spread the virus to dozens of towns and villages along the country's western coast.

The infections on the MS Roald Amundsen raise new questions about safety on all cruise ships during a pandemic, even as the devastated cruise ship industry is pressing to resume sailings after chaotically shutting down in March. 

The Hurtigruten cruise line was one of the first companies to resume sailing after the pandemic hit, starting cruises to Norway out of northern Germany in June with a single ship, then adding cruises in July to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

The 41 people on the Roald Amundsen who tested positive have been admitted to the University Hospital of North Norway in Tromsoe, north of the Arctic Circle, where the ship currently is docked. 

"A preliminary evaluation shows that there has been a failure in several of our internal procedures," Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement. He added the company, which sails along Norway's picturesque coast between Bergen in the south and Kirkenes in the north, is "now in the process of a full review of all procedures."

The company has contacted passengers who were on the Roald Amundsen for its July 17-24 and July 25-31 trips from Bergen to Svalbard, which is known for its polar bears. The ship had 209 guests on the first voyage and 178 guests on the second. All other crew tested negative.

But since the cruise line often acts like a local ferry, traveling from port to port along Norway's western coast, the virus might not have been contained onboard. Some passengers disembarked along the route and could have spread the virus to their local communities.

A total of 69 municipalities in Norway could have been affected, the Norwegian news agency NTB reported. The city of Tromsoe is urging anyone who traveled on the ship or had any contact with the ship to get in touch with health authorities.

It is not known how the outbreak began. Guests come from all over the world. The NTB said 33 infected crew members came from the Philippines and the others came from Norway, France and Germany. 

Skjeldam said cruise ship officials did not know that they should have notified passengers after the first infection was reported Friday, adding that they followed the advice of the ship's doctors.

But Line Vold of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said the organization's advice was to inform passengers and crew as soon as possible so they could monitor their health and go into quarantine if needed.

"We have made mistakes. On behalf of all of us in Hurtigruten, I am sorry for what has happened. We take full responsibility," Skjeldam said. 

Hurtigruten says the operation of three ships - MS Roald Amundsen, MS Fridtjof Nansen and MS Spitsbergen - have been halted for an indefinite period.

In Italy, the Costa Crociere cruise ship line said three crew members from two ships in Civitavecchia, near Rome, have tested positive for the coronavirus. The cruise company said two who were assigned to the Costa Deliziosa have been hospitalized, and a third, assigned to the Costa Favolosa, was in isolation on the ship. 

The Italian cruise company, which is part of Carnival Corp., said the crews of both ships were being screened ''in view of the possible relaunch of our cruises, as soon as the government gives the authorization.'' The Cabinet was to meet on the matter Sunday. 

Costa Crociere said all crew members were tested for the virus before leaving their countries, then underwent a second test once they arrived in Italy, after which they were put under a two-week monitoring period. 

Cruise lines stopped sailing in mid-March after several high-profile coronavirus outbreaks at sea. More than 710 people fell ill aboard Carnival's Diamond Princess cruise ship while it was quarantined off Japan and 13 people died. 

A German vessel set sail last week from Hamburg, testing procedures for how cruise ships can operate safely during the pandemic. The ship sailed with less than 50 percent capacity and only went on a four-day trip at sea with no stops at other ports.

In the South Pacific, some 340 passengers and crew are confined on a cruise ship in Tahiti after one traveler tested positive for the virus. The commissariat for French Polynesia said all those aboard the Paul Gauguin cruise ship are being tested and will be kept in their cabins Monday pending the results.

The South Pacific archipelago started reopening to tourists last month, with a requirement that all visitors get tested before arriving and get retested four days after entering.
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Colleen Barry in Milan and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.