MIAMI (BLOOMBERG) – Cruising giant Carnival Corporation is making its cruise ships available as floating hospitals to help relieve stress on the healthcare system, an offer that United States President Donald Trump said he would discuss with governors.
In remarks on Thursday (March 19), Mr Trump said he had received the offer from Carnival chairman Micky Arison. The company said later in a statement that ships could be quickly turned into hospitals with as many as 1,000 beds. The idea would be to treat non-Covid-19 patients, freeing up hospitals to address the pandemic.
“Certainly they have a lot of rooms,” Mr Trump said. “They’re big and have a lot of rooms.”
The offer was on the agenda for broader talks with governors, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom of California.
Incidents of coronavirus outbreaks on cruise ships at sea were among the most-publicised cases as the disease spread from China. With some people who have been exposed asymptomatic, it wasn’t immediately clear how safe the vessels would be as hospitals – even if they treat other illnesses.
Carnival said on Thursday that it would only seek reimbursement for “essential costs” related to ship operations.
In 2018, Carnival drew criticism after public records – obtained by Florida radio station WLRN – revealed that the federal government paid the company the equivalent of US$5,959 (S$8,600) per passenger per week for lending a vessel to hurricane relief efforts in the Caribbean, an amount that significantly exceeded what the ship typically charges leisure travellers.
But Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said the comparison to the 2018 situation isn’t valid because the company had to account for lost revenue from taking a ship out of operation back then.
“We’re not looking for any revenue to be returned or to make a profit,” Mr Frizzell said.
Carnival ships from the company’s Princess and Costa divisions were among those hit by outbreaks. In the most dramatic case globally, more than 700 people came down with the virus while sailing on a Princess ship off Japan and were quarantined.
The industry has since been shut down by coronavirus, idling the fleets of carriers including Carnival, Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line. Mr Trump has said cruise lines are among the companies he’s looking to help with government aid.
Separately, Carnival said in a filing on Thursday that the coronavirus shutdown will have a “material negative impact” on its finances and liquidity, and will probably delay deliveries of new ships. The company is seeking new financing, and cutting costs and investments.
Carnival fully drew down its US$3 billion multicurrency revolving credit line and said that as of March 15, advance bookings and cruise prices for the rest of the year were down considerably, reflecting the impact of Covid-19.
Shares of the cruise companies are down over 80 per cent this year, more than triple the loss in the S&P 500 index.