Cruise line bosses ‘concealed’ infections and blocked TV news channels to fool passengers into thinking their ship was safe when it was actually a ‘coronavirus time bomb’, according to a new devastating class-action lawsuit exclusively obtained by DailyMail.com.
The Costa Luminosa was marooned in the Mediterranean after suffering a horrifying on-board outbreak of Covid-19 after setting sail from Fort Lauderdale on March 5.
After the roughly 2,000 passengers were finally allowed to evacuate in the French city of Marseille two weeks later, 36 tested positive for the deadly virus and seven people later died, it’s claimed.
Surviving guests have now filed for negligence in federal court, saying cruise operator Costa knew an outbreak was a ‘virtual certainty’ because of what had happened on board two similar ships, the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess, both owned by Costa’s parent company, Carnival.
It says the cruise operator refused to cancel or offer refunds and then failed to properly quarantine or warn passengers when the outbreak began, quietly dropping off the sick at ports along their transatlantic route.
The world’s media knew more about the unfolding crisis than the passengers, it further alleges, because crew members ‘blocked’ access to TV news channels.
Costa also ‘misrepresented’ passengers into believing the luxury liner was equipped with a 24 hour medical facility, when it was only open for around five hours a day.
And when the $490 million boat was finally put into lockdown, hapless crew members tied napkins around their faces instead of using masks to distribute food, says the suit, filed in Miami, home to Costa’s US operation.
‘Costa’s negligent misconduct was predicated on a profit motive because, simply put, cruise lines like Costa make no money when passengers don’t sail,’ states the filing, obtained exclusively by DailyMail.com.
‘Defendant Costa’s knowing, intentional and reckless conduct subjects Costa to the imposition of punitive damages.
‘This voyage set sail knowing it was a virtual certainty that there would be an outbreak, similar, if not identical, to those which two Princess ships had already very publicly faced.
‘This callous disregard for the safety and well-being of its passengers must be answered for.’
The class-action suit was filed in the name of Wisconsin resident Paul Turner on behalf of more than 2,000 claimants.
It could result in Costa paying out tens of millions in damages at a time when the cruise industry has been stopped in its tracks by its vulnerability to coronavirus.
Turner’s filing reveals the Costa Luminosa had its first brush with the crippling respiratory bug before it had even set sail on its 20-day transatlantic voyage.
En route to Fort Lauderdale a 68-year-old Italian man was evacuated in the Cayman Islands after he developed Covid-19 symptoms and suffered a stroke.
He tested positive for the disease and eventually died – but when the cruise liner docked in Fort Lauderdale on March 5, bosses invited new passengers aboard ‘without adequately sanitizing’ or consulting experts on the risks of infection.
They weren’t asked about their history of travel and were only asked a few cursory questions by non-medical staff such as to whether they felt sick or had noticeable symptoms.
‘Costa assured passengers its vessel was not affected by the coronavirus, was safe, and that there was no need for concern,’ the suit alleges.
‘In addition, Costa instructed passengers that they would not be reimbursed if they cancelled their March 5, 2020 voyage on the Costa Luminosa.’
By the time the 93,000-ton vessel docked in Puerto Rico on March 8, an elderly couple from northern Italy, one of the global epicenters of the coronavirus outbreak, had become sick.
They were evacuated to the hospital and would later be confirmed as the first positive cases – and deaths – in the US territory, which is now subject to one of the most stringent curfews in the Western world.
The CDC issued guidelines that same day stating that US citizens with underlying health conditions should not travel by cruise ship, yet the suit says passengers were neither warned about the couple’s plight, nor informed about the new advice.
‘Passengers aboard the vessel were not advised of this warning and were instead dragged across the Atlantic in a ticking coronavirus time bomb,’ the suit alleges.
The boat was denied entry at its next stop, Antigua, after officials there learned about the swirling medical issues, but sailed on for a further seven days to the Canary Islands, off the Western coast of Africa.
Costa officials received the news, meanwhile, that all three of the Italian nationals taken off the ship had tested positive for the virus, the filing explains.
But they allegedly waited nearly a day to inform passengers, quietly sliding a letter under their cabin doors at around midnight on March 14.
‘During and after this revelation, Costa did not instruct passengers to isolate and/or quarantine to avoid the known and significant actual risk of contracting the coronavirus as passengers were allowed unfettered access to the pools, gym, and buffets the entire time, which further put passengers at an actual risk of exposure to coronavirus,’ the suit claims.
Several more passengers had by then fallen sick but only three people were allowed off the boat in the Canary Islands to get medical help on March 15.
‘This was the first day the crewmembers of the Costa Luminosa began wearing napkins over their mouths and using napkins to grab plates to deliver food into passenger’s staterooms,’ the suit says.
‘Again, Costa did not inform and/or warn passengers that passengers on board the same voyage tested positive for the coronavirus. ‘Finally, on the evening of March 15, 2020, the captain of the Costa Luminosa requested passengers to remain isolated in their staterooms.’
Passengers remained quarantined in their rooms as the boat roamed the seas in search of a place to dock, having been denied entry by Spain.
‘During the voyage, Costa concealed information surrounding the coronavirus from passengers by blocking out news channels on stateroom TVs that had previously been available to passengers during the beginning of the cruise,’ the suit adds. ‘Remarkably, media outlets were reporting about the coronavirus issues on the Costa Luminosa before Costa was informing its passengers.’
When the Costa Luminosa finally arrived in Marseille on March 19 guests were ‘bunched into tight groups’ in violation of CDC social distancing advice and put on to buses, and eventually planes, it’s alleged.
The American and Canadian contingent of 350 or so passengers flew into Atlanta airport – the world’s busiest – on a packed charter flight, with US authorities only learning that at least three more had tested positive while the plane was in the air.
It’s been estimated since then that 75 people from the ship have tested positive. A Facebook group set up to share information among passengers lists seven deaths, including 68-year-old US national Tom Sheehan, a retiree from Bradenton, Florida.
The suit seeks unspecified punitive damages from Costa for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress for placing passengers and crew ‘at an actual risk of immediate physical injury and death.’
Leading maritime attorney Michael Winkleman of Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman blasted Costa’s ‘callous disregard’ for safety and confirmed that seven people had died to date.
‘Today we filed a Class Action Complaint on behalf of all of the passengers who were trapped aboard the ill-fated Costa Luminosa,’ he said in a statement to DailyMail.com
‘As the complaint alleges, Defendant Costa Cruise Lines, a wholly owned subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines, knowingly and intentionally set sail from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a transatlantic 20-day cruise on March 5, 2020, knowing at least one of its passengers from the prior voyage had symptoms of coronavirus.
‘This cruise never should have set sail from Fort 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 massive outbreaks of the virus and numerous deaths.’
‘Nobody told us they were taking sick people off the boat or that people were dying.’ Costa Luminosa passenger reveals how cruise ship staff hid the truth about on-board coronavirus outbreak
Costa Luminosa passenger Paul Turner has told how secretive cruise ship staff deployed a cynical ‘misinformation campaign’ to hide the truth about the deadly on-board coronavirus outbreak.
Costa emailed a revised itinerary hours before the luxury liner was due to depart Fort Lauderdale on March 5 revealing it was no longer scheduled to stop in Italy, which at the time was the European epicenter of the crisis.
Having spent $1,900 on tickets and flown from Wisconsin to Florida, Paul and his girlfriend Linda decided to press on with the transatlantic trip to celebrate his 50th birthday.
But when rumors of crew members getting sick started circulating just days into the 20-day voyage, he decided to press customer service reps for answers.
‘I had a million questions but these two Italian guys were like pit bulls,’ Paul told DailyMail.com.
‘They didn’t provide any information whatsoever, they just they kept asking ”who told you” and ”how did you hear”.
‘In the last six years I’ve been on a lot of cruises but I’ve never been spoken to like that. A lady that worked in guest relations said the news was overblowing coronavirus.’
Paul says crew members were equally silent about the elderly Italian couple who were quietly taken off the vessel when it reached Puerto Rico on March 8.
When his room attendants were mysteriously swapped out for the second time, he thought about disembarking in San Juan until staff reassured him he could get off days later in Antigua if he still felt alarmed.
Officials in the Caribbean island barred the ship from making landfall, however, when they learned about the growing levels of sickness.
‘The Antigua thing was a bunch of BS, I don’t think they ever expected to dock there. That lie meant we were all trapped on board,’ Paul said.
‘By then a lot of people were getting sick. Everyone was coughing. I started to feel sick after using the gym in the first few days. I had the night sweats, my bed was like a pool.
‘They said they had a 24-hour medical facility on board but it was only open for five and a half hours a day. And that was the place you were most likely to get sick.
‘It became a circus. They put us directly on the front-line with Covid-19.’
As the Costa Luminosa pushed towards Europe guests did their best to access media reports about what was happening – only to find their TVs suddenly not working.
‘They chopped off the news,’ said Paul, who manages a golf course in La Pointe, Wisconsin. ‘It sure looked as though they cut it off the whole middle of the journey.’
Paul learned the grim reality from another passenger who had paid for an on-board internet pass.
When the boat was finally put on lockdown, he tried his best to sit on the opposite side of his tiny cabin to avoid infecting Linda.
He says staff didn’t deliver any food in the first day of lockdown and what finally arrived was a series of small plates lacking in salad of vegetables.
Crew did lay on free alcohol, although that was of little consolation given Paul is yet to be refunded a single cent from his catastrophic trip, including the $300 wine package he never got to drink.
When the boat finally disembarked in Marseille, Paul says he had his temperature taken but was not tested properly before being herded on to a charter flight to Atlanta with other Americans.
‘People were so sick they were falling over into the aisle,’ he said. ‘It was horrendous.’
Paul tested negative for Covid-19 when he arrived back in Wisconsin but he had largely recovered by the time he was examined.
He was happy to put his name to a class action lawsuit to hold Costa accountable.
‘It was a nightmare and they really messed up. I felt compelled to represent all the seniors that were taken advantage of,’ he said.
‘I knew the world was going to have a problem with Coronavirus but I’m young, I’m strong. We packed masks just in case we made it to Italy.
‘But nobody ever told us they were taking sick people off the boat or that people were dying.
‘Costa were reckless, negligent and secretive. I think they had a campaign of misinformation.
‘It’s seems blatant to me that they were all about the money – and not about personal safety or well-being.’