Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten announced on Monday it is suspending all of its planned trips after 36 staff members and five guests onboard one of their ships tested positive for COVID-19.
Four crew members of the MS Roald Amundsen tested positive on Friday and an additional 32 were found to have contracted the disease on Saturday — the remaining 122 staff members all tested negative.
Five passengers were also confirmed to have been infected.
All 41 people have been admitted to hospital in Tromso, a city north of the Arctic Circle, where the ship docked.
"A preliminary evaluation shows that there has been a failure in several of our internal procedures," Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement. He added the company that sails along Norway's picturesque coast between Bergen in the south and Kirkenes in the north is "now in the process of a full review of all procedures, and all aspects of our own handling".
"In light of the recent increase in new cases of COVID-19 globally, the only responsible choice is to suspend all expedition sailings until we are absolutely confident, we can carry our operations in line with all requirements from the authorities and with the even stricter requirements we have set for ourselves," Skjeldam also said.
Operations for three ships — MS Roald Amundsen, MS Fridtjof Nansen and MS Spitsbergen — have been cancelled for an indefinite period.
The company said it has contacted all the passengers who boarded the MS Roald Amundsen on the July 17 and July 24 departure dates — 209 and 178 guests respectively.
But since the cruise ship line often acts as a local ferry, travelling from port to port along Norway's western coast, the virus may not have been contained onboard. Some passengers disembarked along the route and may have spread the virus to their local communities.
The municipality of Tromsoe is urging anyone who travelled on the ship or had any contact with the ship to get in touch with health authorities. A total of 69 municipalities in Norway have been affected, Norwegian news agency NTB reported.
Hurtigruten Vice President for Global Communications, Rune Thomas Ege, stressed in a statement that "all crew members are closely monitored and screened daily."
"Non-Norwegian crew members are quarantined before boarding the ship, and non-European crew need to undergo two negative COVID-19 tests before even leaving their home country," he added.
The cruising industry has been particular badly-hit by the global pandemic with sailing all but stopped in mid-March with several ships becoming large quarantine zones.