Around 450 passengers and crew are sick with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea aboard Celebrity's Mercury as the ill cruise ship completes its inaugural cruise to the Caribbean from the port of Charleston, South Carolina. The cause of the illness is unknown. The cruise ship will sail again from Charleston tomorrow, and many new passengers don't want to set foot on the ship.
This is not what the city of Charleston or the thousands of passengers who paid for a relaxing cruise to the Caribbean bargained for.
The media is focusing on this nauseating story. The Baltimore Sun has an article "More Than 400 Sick Aboard Celebrity Mercury Cruise Ship" (the comments are brutal). The Consumerist's headline says it all: "Caribbean Cruise Ship Turns Into Diarrhea Nightmare Vessel."
In ABC News' story "400-Plus Passengers Get Sick on Cruise," the cruise line's PR spokesperson, Cynthia Martinez, says that the ship doctors are giving passengers anti-nausea and diarrhea medication such as Pepto-Bismol . . . "
The cruise line is in overdrive trying to clean the cruise ship. The web site of a local news station in Charleston carries the story "Mercury Crews Scramble to Clean Cruise Ship." The ship's crewmembers are "conducting some 'enhanced cleaning,' according to Ms. Martinez.
"Enhanced cleaning?" What the heck does that mean? And what exactly are they cleaning?
The cruise line has not even established the type of pathogen or virus involved and its source. Large scale sickness like this on a cruise ship can come from numerous sources - such as a contaminated water supply, improperly prepared food, or norovirus in bathrooms. The Norovirus Blog reports that cruise ship norovirus outbreaks are linked to the ship's bathrooms, and we addressed this issue last year in our blog "Cruise Ship Norovirus - Clean the Damn Toilets!"
But so far, there is no indication that norovirus in the ship's bathrooms is the culprit. If the ship's water supply is contaminated, all of the external cleaning in the world is not going to eradicate the problem.
And at this point, it does not look like the cruise line knows, or at least it is not disclosing the source of the problem to the public or the next 1,800 passengers who are boarding the cruise ship tomorrow. Instead, the cruise line is implying that its the passengers who are the problem because they are not washing their hands, rather than the ship which is infecting the passengers.
This week our office has received a number of inquiries from passengers who are frightened to sail on the Mercury tomorrow. They wonder whether they can cancel their cruise and get their money back. Unfortunately, the cruise line's lawyers have spent years crafting terms and conditions in the passenger tickets which protect the cruise line, not the consumer. And if the passenger has travel insurance, the insurance company probably won't pay if the passengers cancel because they are not sick (yet) and the cruise ship will sail again tomorrow, come-hell-or-high-water.
The cruise line is promising to give sick passengers a voucher "based on the number of days a guest is isolated divided by the total of cruise fare paid." Huh? These nice people are sitting on a crapper in their cabins, vomiting into a waste can on their lap. All they get is a voucher for partial payment for another cruise? That's a crappy deal, excuse the pun.
What a predicament for these folks. Tomorrow, the cruise line will unload the 1,800 passengers from the Mercury and load another 1,8000 back on. And the Mercury will set sail again, this time for a 10 day cruise to Mexico, Belize, the Bahamas, and Key West.
We wish the passengers luck.
And don't forget to take a large bottle of Pepto-Bismol with you . . .
February 25, 2010 Update:
The Washington Post reports that the CDC is confirming the presence of norovirus on the cruise shp.
Our prior article on the Mercury's history of shipboard illnesses: Stomach Bug Hits Celebrity's Mercury Cruise Ship Again
February 26, 2010 Update:
March 4, 2010 Update:
The Baltimore Sun reports that "about 55 guests have been treated for gastro-like symptoms" on the Mercury cruise ship.
Pepto Bismol Shakespeare's Monkey (fark.com)
Itinerary Celebrity Cruises