‘DEVASTATING’ INVESTIGATION: Roald Amundsen doctors treated sick crew who had COVID-19 on July 21 – ten days before Hurtigruten reported first ‘known’ cases to officials

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A formal investigation of the COVID-19 outbreak on Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen during two one-week voyages in Svalbard adds more findings described as “devastating” to an already long list of violations and questionable decisions, including crew members sick with COVID-19 who went unreported ten days before the outbreak was reported to authorities.

A total of 71 crew and passengers on the ship during voyages that started July 17 and 24 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to date. Hurtigruten failed to notify officials about the outbreak until the ship docked in Tromsø after the second voyage ended July 31, at which point the passengers had already disembarked and traveled to their home towns and countries.

Most of the infections happened during the second voyage, but the investigation by the Norwegian Maritime Directorate states crew members aboard the first voyage were so sick they were treated in the ship’s ward on July 21, NRK reported Wednesday evening. Their treatment was not logged and officials were not notified.

“We describe our findings as serious,” Dag Inge Aarhus, communications director for the marine directorate, told the news network. “Hurtigruten is a large ship company and a professional organization. In that sense it surprises us that so many discrepancies have emerged.”

The Norwegian doctor aboard the ship, not named by NRK, told the network he was not involved in the treatment of the Filipino crew who were sick.

“The Filipino doctor observed these cases every day in the ward and sent out a report,” he said. “I never met them.”

In a written statement to NRK, Hurtigruten spokesperson Tarjei Kramviken, states “we cannot go into questions that deal with individuals, individual actions or medical assessments that were made in connection with the disease outbreak on the Roald Amundsen. A police investigation is underway, in addition to the full investigation the board of Hurtigruten has initiated. We look forward to receiving answers and being able to answer more questions.”

The investigation’s findings were released two days after Norwegian Minister of Health Bent Høie said there were multiple Hurtigruten sailings since February where people infected with COVID-19 were not properly reported, including a Belgium man in his 70s who subsequently died. Høie said neither his ministry nor the Norwegian Institute of Public Health knew about the earlier cases until they read about them in the media late last week – and are contrary to Hurtigruten’s statements after the July cruises no such cases were known on any previous cruises.

Among other findings of the maritime directorate’s investigation:

• While there were suspected COVID-19 on July 29 during the second cruise, treatment of those patients also was not logged and the illnesses not reported to officials until July 31.

• Hurtigruten crew and officials were uncertain about notification requirements, including who to report suspected cases to at the company and the responsibilities of the doctors for such.

• The directorate failed to find documentation employees aboard the Roald Amundsen has training in testing for COVID-19 infections and that equipment for such tests was on the vessel.

• The company had not updating its risk assessment procedures before the cruises, instead using assessments conducted on March 26.

The Roald Amundsen did not dock in Svalbard, one of the last places on the world with no known COVID-19 cases, during its July cruises. But the outbreak resulted in the shutdown of all the company’s voyages as well as other cruise lines planning to visit Svalbard, and help trigger a global abandonment of “reopening” voyages soon after they resumed.