Similar to the notorious Diamond cruise near Japan, the Greg Mortimer cruise ship was under massive public objection due to its ignorance to WHO recommendation and the manager’s immoral command to the ship doctor. Questions are raised around how such unethical decisions had been made and what could prevent organisations from making the same mistake.

Based on the moral approbation model, the research identified that a broader context, including communities, publics and organisation impacted on an individual ethical decision. The stakeholder theory assures the ethical decision-making by including diverse stakeholders on the discussion and the reliability concept suggests requite variety and redundancy are important characteristics in organisational design.

Three recommendations are driven from this case:

– Multiple stakeholders should be included and balanced in their interest and well-being

– A flat hierarchy is beneficiary for effective ethical discussion

– Community and public factors should be emphasised to urge ethical corporate responsibility. 




On March 2020, more than 200 passengers embarked on the Greg Mortimer ship unknown that it would become one of the most tragic experience trips that they have been (Garat, 2020). After a week sailing, a few customers had health symptoms, which was believed to related to coronavirus. Urgent requests to disembark in the nearest port in Uruguay were rejected several times until evacuation plans were well-prepared. At the time Greg Mortimer was able to port, more than 80 per cent of passengers had been tested positive to COVID-19, six were under serious health conditions and one crew member died (Griffiths & Castillo, 2020). The Greg Mortimer cruise ship was under severe critics of the public due to its incompliance to WHO’s recommendations. It underwent an even bigger public outcry when an email between its owner and the ship doctor was leaked. This research aims at understanding how and why the ethical or unethical decisions were made in the case under the light of academic literature. In details, the paper hinges on the moral approbation model, the stakeholder theory and the reliability concept to analyse the relationship between organisational context and ethical issues in the case. Finally, recommendations draw on this understanding are expected to help organisations to make ethical issues in crises.   


Case description

On March 15 2020, Greg Mortimer embarked on a voyage to Antarctica and South Georgia, the In Shackleton’s Footsteps trip as inspired by a British polar expeditionist (Goni, 2020). 217 passengers, majority from Australia, onboarded the cruise ship and expected a three-week of impressive experience (Carruthers, 2020). Unfortunately, on March 22, a 50-year-old woman started exhibiting symptoms and fevers similar to the phenomenal pandemic, which is spreading wildly worldwide. To attain permission to dock, Aurora Expeditions, the owner of the ship, had to plan on how to bring their customers home. At the peak of time, Dr Mauricio Usme, the ship doctor, received an email from Dr Glenn Haifer, the director of Aurora Expeditions, directing him to reveal limited information truthfully. Dr Haifer warned Dr Usme that health declaration would make Uruguay mindful of the COVID-19 potential infectious danger and ban the ship off the coast (Alexander, 2020). However, Dr Usme refused to modify the health declaration. As a result, an Uruguayan medical team had boarded the ship on April 1 and identified 81 positive cases for Covid-19 and six seriously ill people had been transferred immediately to hospitals (Carruthers, 2020; Goni, 2020). A week later, Greg Mortimer was held isolated in the waterfront with 128 people tested positive for Covid-19 and was asking desperately for urgent medical supports and evacuation from Uruguayan and Australian governments. Eventually, on April 10, the first humanitarian plane, carrying a total of 112 passengers to Australia and New Zealand, had taken off at the cost of approximately 15,000 AUD per person (Griffiths & Castillo, 2020). The negotiations for evacuation flights kept ongoing while passengers of other nationalities stayed on board awaiting. Last but not least, on April 18, one Filipino crew reported dead of COVID-19 (Dolven, 2020).

Key concepts

Moral approbation model

Jones and Ryan (1998) illuminate the understanding of the linkage between moral judgement and moral action by a moral approbation model and argue the impacts of organisational forces on each component. Moral judgement, as having been profoundly studied in cognitive moral development (CDM) related theories, is a result of a structure or a system to recognise a moral issue and make moral reasoning. While moral behaviours are actions of the object’s intent after overcoming all internal and external impediments. When a person aware of an ethical dilemma, he or she would firstly judge the issue and contemplate a possible course of actions which are likely to be morally accepted by himself or herself and others (Bowie, 2017). This is also the fundamental ideology of the moral approbation model where an agent is predicted to behave according to the desired level of responsibilities that his or her referent groups anticipate. In a complex moral decision-making situation, the level of moral responsibilities is measured by the severity of consequences, moral certainty, degree of complicity and extent of pressure to behave unethically. 

Stakeholder theory and reliability concept

Stakeholder theory addresses ethics and values explicitly as a central topic of organisational management (Freeman, 2010; Phillips, Freeman & Wicks, 2003). The theory requests managers not only focus on maximising shareholder wealth but also to satisfy their interest and well-being as much as possible. Failure to meet stakeholders’ expectation will impede the performance or impose resource constrains on an organisation’s journey to achieve its objectives. Freeman (1994) identified a company ought to manage and balance the interests of four major stakeholders, namely employees, customers, financiers and communities. The identification of significant stakeholders is further discussed by the Theory of Stakeholder identification using three state-of-art attributes, legitimacy, power and urgency (Mitchell et al, 1997). Directors must make a reasonable judgement of and to proactively manage affairs of the company following stakeholder’s desired outcome. Else, the stakeholders may resort to external resources to enforce their willing.

The reliability concept later complements for the stakeholder theory of how organisations can take initiatives to readjust organisational design and incorporate different stakeholders’ viewpoint to their ethical decision making (Husted, 1993). Firms are more likely to act reliably if requisite variety and redundancy characteristics are embedded in their structure (Husted, 1993). Requisite variety emphasises on the principles of having a varied combination of background, experience and knowledge as complex as the environment where the company operates. Redundancy, on the other hand, acclaims a duplicated and overlapping decision-making system assures a final ethical decision upon agreement from polarised opinions from different units on the same issue.


Moral approbation model

The application of moral approbation model is evident in the case of Dr Mauricio Usme, who complied to community pressure to submit an honest declaration. It is clear from the case that Dr Usme, the cruise’s physician, was in a troublesome situation where his integrity might put the ship’s permission to dock at stake and hold more than 200 passengers vulnerable from cross-infection in a confined ship space. However, his decision to reveal the reality to the Uruguay authorities has excellently demonstrated his high moral responsibility. Firstly, it is worth mentioning that Dr Usme was put under lots of pressure to make wrongdoing. At once, Dr Haifer had written to Dr Usme asking him to follow his command otherwise losing a job is the consequence that Dr Usem was deserved. Tensions onboard continued rising as the ship’s operators, captain and even CMI/Sunstone, the crewing company, urged Dr Usme to downplay the severity on the health declaration (Goni, 2020). Nevertheless, the pressure to behave unethically didn’t buckle him down. It is partially because the consequences of a false declaration are massive losses to Uruguayan and the world health in general. It does to a fact that four days before the ship depart, the World Health Organisation has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and discouraged unnecessary travels (Dolven, 2020). Any incompliance to the recommendation will cause an uncontrollable spread of the most infectious virus to the communities and destroy global efforts to stop the flow of contagion across national borders. In the position of an experienced doctor, Dr Usme fully aware of the severity of keeping integrity and honesty instead of misleading the authority. Additionally, the moral certainty of the wrong behaviour is also clear in this case. According to Dr Usme’s reports, it was only a week from sailing off that a few passengers started having symptoms, such as fevers and breathing difficulties, which required his medical assistance (Alexander, 2020). Further investigation also showed that there were two COVID-19 positive cases found in the Uishala departing port. In a week of development, the cruise had been in a quarantine situation. Passengers were requested to rest in their rooms and were isolated from the ill symptomatic ones. Apparently, if passengers were allowed to disembark, the same situation would replicate on a much larger scale, in the whole Uruguay. Finally, Dr Usme would have committed to a high degree of complicity if he had done as being said. As the ship’s physician, he is in the highest accountability to declare the health of all passengers and his wrong submission is first and foremost evidence that Uruguay government will pick up in court. Dr Usme, hence, by no mean, can ignore his moral responsibility and must bear the cost of organisational pressure to act for community’s favour.

Stakeholder theory and reliability concept

In the Greg Mortimer case, while the pressure from financiers had pushed the company to make unethical decisions, it majorly thanks to the employees, customers and communities who have luckily saved the cruise operator, captain and the management board from making irreversible immoral decisions. In the beginning, as a profit-making organisation, Aurora Expedition managers had decided to sail the trip regardless of WHO’s recommendations. Their decision might be explained by a tangible loss of up to $50,000 per passenger if the trip were cancelled (Carruthers, 2020). As a 51 per cent owner of the ship, Dr Glenn Haifer, who was described as a lofty and capital director, chose to ignore the risk and urged the ship captain to expedite the journey (Carruthers, 2020). However, employees of the ship, including Dr Usme, the security officer, the crew, have played important roles fighting against the unethical decision. While Dr Usme, as described above, had unwaveringly refused to cover the truth, the security officer, Mr Lukasz Zuterek was less lucky. Mr Lukasz had insisted on cancelling the voyage to protect passengers’ health to the ship captain. He was bold in his advice after learning by himself the danger of COVID-19 and witnessing many other cruise trips had been cancelled except Greg Mortimer (Alexander, 2020). His repeated request annoyed the ship operator and the captain that they decided to fire him immediately. The crew had also taken legal action against Aurora Expedition and the CMI/Sunstone company for disregarding the WHO recommendations and putting the crew at unnecessary risks of exposing to coronavirus (Dolven, 2020). The Aurora Expedition and CMI company defended weakly that they had taken sufficient medical check-ups and preventative actions to passengers and the crew before the trip. However, a reported death of a crew member had proved the management board’s ignorance and disrespect to human life. Customers of the trip were aware of the severity of coronavirus, many had directly consulted with the captain of the safety of the ship. When the trip began, customers had kept updated and cooperated with the crew to isolate symptomatic passengers. It was largely due to the pressure from customers that Greg Mortimer had finally given up its plan and sought for permission to dock in Uruguay. Last but not least, the similar unethical cheats found in other like-wise cruise ships have made that WHO and seaside governments more precautious on giving porting permission. In short, it is lucky enough for Greg Mortimer to own a requisite variety characteristic, which means it has an honest physician, represents for WHO and medical consultants, a safety officer who stands for people right and ethical compliance, and the crew whose diverse voices are likewise the community. Needless to say, the team on-board remains in a flat hierarchy, which enables redundancy characteristic and enforces multiple perspectives are reflected in the final decision (Aurora Expedition, n.d). Therefore, in the end, Greg Mortimer opted to be candid to Uruguay authorities and underwent a lengthy, yet safety evacuation process.


In conclusion, this research has studied the relationship between the organisational context and ethical issues in Greg Mortimer cruise ship. The moral approbation model, the stakeholder theory and the reliability concepts are applied to connect dotting evidences and enlighten the core factors leading to moral or immoral decisions had been made. The research found Dr Usme is a typical example of moral approbation model. Under the pressure from community, the doctor managed to make ethical decisions that fit with his moral responsibilities. Meanwhile, the stakeholder theory has explained a controversial unethical decision to expedite the voyage was due to the pressure from financier stakeholders, in this case, is Dr Haifer. Luckily, the objection from staff, the crew, customers and communities have successfully reversed the decision and saved the cruise ship from irreversible consequences. Look at the story from different lenses, it is the requisite variety and the redundancy characteristics that existed in the cruise team design, which have helped the cruise ship to make a reliable choice regardless of the organisational factors.  


In the recommendation, the research proposes three practical lessons driven from the lucky-enough story of Greg Mortimer cruise ship for further references to make ethical decisions in an organisation.

  • Recommendation 1: In the process of making an ethical decision, the companies should listen to concerns and recommendations from significant stakeholders, including employees, customers, financiers and communities and should aim for a balance of their interests and well-being. Greg Mortimer, though involuntarily, reflected the employee’s opinions, Dr. Usme, hence has precluded the company from making unethical decisions to mislead the Uruguay authorities (Alexander, 2020).
  • Recommendation 2: a rather flat hierarchy organisation design can prevent an organisation from making immoral decisions. It is because a flat hierarchy enables a direct flow of information and conversation among stakeholders and hence, pull their consent into one direction. In the case of Greg Mortimer, the small size of the staff and crew team on-board has facilitated this feature (Aurora Expedition, n.d).
  • Recommendation 3: Requisite variety and redundancy are critical features of a reliable organisation. Without the presence of Dr Usme, Mr Lukasz, and the crew participating in the decision making of the ship, the captain would have listened to the director, Dr Haifer, to continue a deperate journey.
  • Recommendation 4: Draw on Dr Usme example, an individual moral decision is impacted by both the organisation and a broader context, the community and the global influences. Hence, to fix the unethical organisational climate, the community pressure can propel individuals in the company to commit to upright ethics and values. This suggests the importance of community and the public in urging organisational to act ethically. Additionally, trainings for organisational leaders of ethics, social responsibilities and global moral standards are internal efforts for organisations to make more ethical decisions. 


 In this paper, I have applied the core concepts of theories in articles of Husted (1993), Jones & Ryan (1998), and Mitchell et all (1997) to analyse the case. Based on the theory’s explanation and guidance, it is much easier to look for evidences from the case, draw the linkage amongst different factors and conclude insights for the ethical decision that Greg Mortimer made in their situation.

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