Hurtigruten unit fined for COVID outbreak 2020 | Polarjournal
Hurtigruten had sent its hybrid expedition ship “Roald Amundsen” on two voyages between Tromsø and Svalbard in July 2020 in good spirits. The COVID outbreak on board and its handling by the company led to massive criticism afterwards. Picture (archive): Hurtigruten CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 EN

Last summer, as the initial waves of the COVID pandemic slowly subsided, Norway also allowed expedition travel to support the domestic tourism market. Hurtigruten had presented a comprehensive safety concept to prevent outbreaks on board its ships. But then came the shock at the end of July: On board the Roald Amundsen, crew members had tested positive for the virus at the end of two voyages. The incident continued to spread and a criminal investigation was launched against Hurtigruten by the regional authorities. Now the final report and the penalty have been published.

The company Hurtigruten Coastal AS was fined 1 million Norwegian kroner (€100,000) “for deficiencies in the safety management system, emergency preparedness, organization, reporting, risk assessment, facilitation and notification”, the Troms Police District Authority wrote in a press release. In addition, both the then-captain of the Roald Amundsen and the ship’s doctor were fined 30,000 and 40,000 Norwegian kroner (€3,000 and €4,000), respectively. As a reason, the captain is accused of “failing to inform the Norwegian authorities about a possible infection”, and the doctor is accused of “deficiencies in the exercise of his profession as a medical professional and for failing to inform the Norwegian authorities”. All three parties can appeal the fines, the press release continues. Others under investigation were found not to have committed any misconduct and were found innocent accordingly. Among them were the CEO of Hurtigruten, Daniel Skjeldam

Hurtigruten restructured in October 2020 and now operates its own expedition cruising division. The penalty applies only to coastal-shipping unit Hurtigruten Coastal AS. Image: Hurtigruten CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 EN

“The violation is considered significant. The prosecuting authority believes it is right to fine Hurtigruten for this.”

Jørn Bremnes, Troms & Finnmarken Prosecutor

The fines concern the branch Hurtigruten Coastal AS, not the whole Hurtigruten company. The unit was formed as part of a restructuring in October 2020 and conducts cruises along the Norwegian coast. Regional prosecutor Jørn Bremnes, who is handling the case, stated in the press release, “The violation is considered significant given the number of passengers and crew, the nature of the illness, the severity and infectiousness, and the risk of further infection. The prosecuting authority believes it is appropriate to fine Hurtigruten for this and, based on the nature and seriousness of the violation, believes that 1 million kroner is an appropriate fine.” The captain is “surprised by the fine” and will appeal, his lawyer has already told media. The ship’s doctor stated via the lawyer that he did not understand the allegation and denied any criminal liability. Meanwhile, the lawyer for Hurtigruten Coastal AS drew attention to the complexity of the case and said that it wanted to look at the details first before taking any further action.

In July 2020, a total of 386 passengers had been on two voyages with the “Roald Amundsen”. In the end, everyone had to go into quarantine and 71 people were affected by COVID. Image (archive): Hurtigwiki / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 EN

The case had caused quite a stir in the summer of 2020, when the expedition cruising industry had actually ground to a halt. Hurtigruten, however, had received the green light from the Norwegian government to operate voyages with domestic passengers. In July, the Roald Amundsen had planned two voyages in northern Norway and to Svalbard. According to the authorities’ report, the company had received suspicions of COVID on board the vessel two days before the end of the second voyage. A physician had diagnosed COVID in a patient who had participated in the first trip and had informed the company that they might have COVID on board. At the same time, Norwegian health authority FHI recommended Hurtigruten to notify all other travellers on the same voyage.

However, it was not until the ship arrived in Tromsø that tests were conducted on the crew while the passengers were allowed to disembark. When crew members were found to have caught the virus, all passengers had to be informed and quarantined in the aftermath. Infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus was also detected in 29 passengers. “Had the shipping company put in place the safety management system required by law, the sum of the information on which the shipping company relied should have led to measures, notifications and better follow-up actions to reduce the risk to further spreading the infection,” said police attorney Lisa-Mari Ellingsen, who had investigated the case. After it became known, the police and the prosecutor’s office of the Troms and Finnmarken region had looked into the case and investigated whether the company or individuals had violated the law.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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