When Emilio, 51, and Barbara, 46, Hernandez of Coconut Grove boarded the Costa Luminosa cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale on March 5, they had no idea that Jamaica had barred Italian passengers from getting off the ship on the previous cruise, or that a passenger had been medically evacuated in the Cayman Islands.
All they knew was that despite an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Costa Cruises, owned by Carnival Corporation, was not offering refunds. And they didn’t want to lose the money.
“Part of it was group-think,” Emilio said. “People are getting on the boat, we should be OK, and surely if something is wrong, the company wouldn’t sail. We sat there off to the side at the port for a good hour and 15 minutes before we made a decision to get on.”
That decision is one they deeply regret. Now back in South Florida, they are recovering from COVID-19, but they count themselves among the lucky. At least three Costa Luminosa passengers have died from the disease.
The Hernandezes and other passengers sued Costa Cruises Tuesday in federal court in Miami, alleging it acted negligently and intentionally inflicted emotional distress. Miami maritime attorney Michael Winkleman at firm Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman is representing the group.
“This cruise never should have set sail from Ft. Lauderdale in the first place because by March 5, 2020, the global cruise industry was well aware of the two Princess cruise ships (also ultimately owned by Carnival) that resulted in a massive outbreak of the virus and numerous deaths,” said Winkleman in a statement, referring to the quarantined ships Diamond Princess in Japan and Grand Princess in California.
Costa did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
After evacuating a woman with COVID-19 symptoms and her husband from the ship in Puerto Rico on March 8 and getting turned away from its next stop, Antigua, Costa decided to sail the Luminosa ship to Europe. The company waited seven days to isolate passengers and give crew members protective gear despite a growing number of sick people on board.
Three more passengers with COVID-19 symptoms and their companions were evacuated when the ship reached the Canary Islands in Spain on March 15. The Hernandezes wrote a letter to the ship’s captain begging to be let off there. The ship left for France that night with the couple on board.
They eventually disembarked in Marseille, France, on March 19 and boarded a charter flight to Atlanta with more than 300 others. Three Americans on the Atlanta flight who were already ill received news upon landing that they had tested positive for COVID-19. The rest of the group was screened by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and sent on commercial flights home across the country.
Emilio hopes that the lawsuit will force Costa to change how it operates.
“If the cruise ships don’t learn now, how many more people are going to die?” he said. “They need to be held accountable for what they’ve done to their passengers and their crews. They decided that taking their asset back to Italy was more important than my health and the health of all the passengers. That decision has cost people their lives.”