‘CRIMINAL AND PUNISHABLE!’: Reception manager on COVID-19 infected Roald Amundsen quits, says Huritgruten put profits above crew and is ‘an organization controlled by fear mentality’

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Accusing Hurtigruten of “miserable ethical compliance,” a top manager on the cruise ship Roald Amundsen has resigned due to what he called “criminal and punishable” actions by the company regarding an outbreak of COVID-19 during two voyages to Svalbard last summer.

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The Roald Amundsen made two weeklong voyages to Svalbard during July of 2020, but did not dock in Longyearbyen or at other ports due to COVID-19 restrictions. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

The accusations, made in a Facebook post Sunday and republished widely by traditional and social media soon afterward, add to the epidemic of allegations and official findings that Hurtigruten was negligent in its preventative measures for crew and guests, tried to cover up the outbreaks with actions including intimidating employees, and prioritized profits over safety.

“It was impossible for me to remain employed by an employer with such miserable ethical compliance,” wrote Kristian Sæterhaug, who stated he has worked for Hurtigruten for 15 years, but resigned in January. He called the company a “school example of an organization controlled by fear mentality.”

“Leaders who kick down (read: bully their people) are rewarded, employees who kick upwards are called in for disciplinary discussions and receive written warnings.”

Sæterhaug is the first crew member share his story publicly using his full name and criticizing Hurtigruten’s handling of the virus situation.

The outbreaks occurring during two weeklong voyages between July 17-31, just after a ban on cruise ships in Svalbard was lifted, although the vessel was not allowed to dock in Longyearbyen or at other ports due to virus-related precautions. But they weren’t reported until the Roald Amundsen reached Tromsø at the end of the second journey – and even then the company allowed passengers to disembark without making contact tracing efforts.

A total of 29 passengers and 42 employees tested positive for the coronavirus, and 69 municipalities in Norway (and many others in other countries) were affected by infusion of infected travellers.

Among the many problems was no effective effort was made to quarantine about 100 Filipino crew who arrived in early July to work on the ship, Sæterhaug wrote. The outbreaks were largely prevalent among those employees.

Sæterhaug acknowledged he shamefully engaged in “deceitful” behavior by keeping silent after he and a Filipino accounting manager concerned about his colleagues asked a ship’s doctor about the outbreak the day before the second voyage reached Tromsø and was told – falsely it turned out – the cause wasn’t COVID-19.

“Me and the house economist left the infirmary, not further reassured, and looked each other in the eyes with a mutual understanding that we must do as we are told,” Sæterhaug wrote. “As a leader, this has been my most deceitful moment.”

Sæterhaug he acted surprised the next day when Tromsø officials boarded the ship and confirmed the COVID-19 infections and it seems unlikely higher-ranking officers aboard the ship were genuine when they made similar remarks.

“It’s completely unthinkable that the captain (and other ship officers) didn’t know we had Covid on board,” he wrote. “I knew it!!! When someone is fined tens of thousands for going to a party I expect the prosecutor to know their place here. What happened on the M/S Roald Amundsen last summer was criminal and punishable! I expect the rule of law to know its place here.”

Sæterhaug’s accusations are largely borne out in a report published by the Norwegian Maritime Directorate last September which concluded that the emergency preparedness was inadequate, notification routines for infection on board were not followed, and it took several days before top company managers and outside officials were informed.

Tarjei Kramviken, Hurtigruten’s communications consultant, told NRK he has read Sæterhaug’s post and takes it seriously.

“Although what our former colleague writes about the outbreak on the M/S Roald Amundsen has already been thoroughly addressed in the external investigation, Hurtigruten takes all feedback and concerns from our employees seriously,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Kramviken stated Hurtigruten is working to improve its notification and management culture, especially in the wake of the maritime directorate’s report.

The only top corporate official departure so far has been the resignation of Executive Vice President Bent Martini, according to NRK.

Sæterhaug’s post had about 725 emoji responses and 125 comments about 24 hours after it was published. Nearly all expressed support for his coming forward, and that the accusations confirm what they already know or suspected regarding Hurtigruten’s actions during the pandemic.