Update, 3:50 p.m.: Norwegian Cruise Line has suspended cruises from March 13 to April 11.
This week, New Times broke the story about Norwegian Cruise Line managers in Miami directing salespeople to mislead customers about coronavirus to protect the company's bookings. In leaked internal emails, a senior manager provided a script for the sales team to use if customers wanted to cancel their trips. Some of the talking points were blatantly false, including one that claimed, "Scientists and medical professionals have confirmed that the warm weather of the spring will be the end of the Coronavirus."
In response to the story, two Democratic U.S. senators — Richard Blumenthal and Edward J. Markey — have sent a letter to Norwegian's CEO, Frank Del Rio, demanding the company "immediately end the dissemination of any misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic." The letter quotes portions of New Times' story and followup articles by the Washington Post and Forbes.
In 2018, Del Rio took home more than $22 million in compensation, making him the highest-paid CEO in South Florida that year, according to the Sun Sentinel .
In December, Blumenthal introduced the Cruise Passenger Protection Act, which Markey is cosponsoring. The bill seeks to beef up medical standards on cruise ships and, among other things, require a physician onboard at all times and force ships to employ enough medical staff to treat the number of passengers. The bill also proposes safety briefings for passengers so they know where to seek medical attention, what to do during a medical emergency, and how to report incidents.
The senators have urged Norwegian to consider suspending operations until it puts policies in place to protect the health and safety of passengers and crew members. Carnival's Princess Cruises, for example, has suspended its global operations for two months following coronavirus outbreaks that led to quarantines on two of its ships.
Viking and Disney Cruise Lines also have halted their operations. The senators' letter says Norwegian has a moral obligation to protect consumers and provide accurate information to everyone traveling on its ships.
New Times' story was based on internal emails leaked by a whistleblower. The senators say that the emails reveal "unconscionable aspects of Norwegian's business model" and that the talking points provided to the sales team are untrue and dangerous to public health.
"Norwegian's prioritization of profits over people during this pandemic is truly appalling, and we demand that the company take action to cease all such behavior immediately," the senators say in the letter.
Blumenthal and Markey also have asked Norwegian to refund its customers.
"We caution you not to push the cost of any operational suspension onto your passengers," the letter says, "and Norwegian must provide consumers with existing reservations a full cash refund."