Cruise Industry is Completely Unprepared for Ebola Outbreak

A week ago, I went to Twitter and complained that the cruise industry had not issued an Ebola-specific protocol for the cruise lines to follow. The threat of Ebola was growing, but the cruise lines seemed asleep at the helm.  Neither the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) nor its CEO Christine Duffy had even mentioned Ebola.

I had received many inquiries from the public about whether it was safe to cruise. So I tweeted:      

"Passengers fearing #Ebola asking me whether its safe to #cruise / Why no statement byCruise Ebola Scare - Carnival @CruiseFacts or @CLIACEO?"

The popular cruise blog Cruise Hive (@CruiseHive) followed up on the issue and asked via Twitter about the cruise industry's protocols: "I asked the major cruise lines about their Ebola preparation but not one replied! Costa did but no details . . ."

I wrote a short article Ebola on the High Seas: Should Cruise Passengers Worry About Becoming Infected?

CLIA and its CEO didn't tweet or blog or post a story on Facebook about the threat. This is during the heart of the popular CLIA "Cruise Week" when travel agents are in a marketing frenzy to sell cruises. Better-not-scare-the-business-away seemed to be the attitude.

So today we learn that a Dallas health care worker who handled clinical specimens from Ebola-infected Thomas Duncan is on a Caribbean cruise aboard the Carnival Magic.  She apparently went ashore with other passengers in Roatan. When the cruise ship sailed to Belize, the government barred her from going ashore. The government of Belize and the U.S. State Department were in discussions to permit her to board an air ambulance and be flown back to the U.S. When Belize prudently refused, she was stuck on the ship, which sailed on to Cozumel which also barred the ship from port. The Magic is now returning to Texas.

Carnival calls this a "self quarantine." That's hardly true. The U.S. scrambled to fly a jet to medevac her back to Texas. Carnival negligently permitted her aboard in the first place and is not going to let her wander around the ship while she is still within the incubation period.        

Carnival didn't even have a questionnaire to ask passengers whether they had come into contact with an Ebola patient or had worked at a hospital or healthcare facility which treated such a patient in the last three weeks.

Certainly it was easily foreseeable that a nurse might drive down to Galveston for a cheap cruise on a Carnival fun ship.

The reality is that cruise ships are perfect petri dishes for diseases to flourish. 5,000 passengers and crew members are mashed together for a week on the Carnival Magic, using public restrooms and spooning food using the same ladle from gigantic buffets. No wonder in the last ten years we have seen ships plagued not only by outbreaks of gastrointestinal diseases, noro virus and e-coli, but measles & rubella, Legionnaires Disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and other infectious diseases.

It's outlandish that the cruise industry has no protocols specifically related to Ebola to keep hospital workers who worked around Ebola the heck off of cruise ships.  And if this lack of preparation is any indication, I shudder to think how ill prepared the cruise ships are to respond if an outbreak occurs.

This afternoon, ABC News published a photo taken by a Carnival Magic cruise passenger Jeremy Malone who saw 30 to 40 crew with buckets of disinfectant to deal with the Ebola scare. I think the photo says it all. No protective clothing, no protective boots, no protective masks, etc. Just tired, hard-working, low-paid Filipino crew members assigned yet another extra job without sufficient training or equipment.

Think that the cruise lines' slogan that the "health and safety of our guests is our highest priority" is true regarding Ebola? Think again.

Ebola Cruise Scare Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page. 

 Photo Credit:  Jeremy Malone via ABC News

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Comments (10) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
stakoz - October 17, 2014 5:33 PM

and who is prepared, Mr. Walker?
the US hospitals ?

Helene Apper - October 17, 2014 6:14 PM

I disagree when you blame this on the cruise industry. The hospital is at fault. They should have quarantined all their employees that were in contact with the patient. The nurse is at fault inasmuch as she knew she was with this man and she still went on a cruise. But she "self-quarantined" herself so she gets some credit. This is not Carnival's fault. If your suggestion is that they change their questionnaire, then let's list every known disease to mankind. I have been on several ships when the norovirus hit - simply because a passenger came on board with it. However, I also know of many people who have gotten the flu or a cold simply by going to work. People are panicking. But to blame Carnival for this incidence is ludicrous. Personally I think the hospital should be reimbursing Carnival for the $200 onboard credit they are giving and the 50% cruise certificate. I applaud Carnival for acting on something that they could not possibly have foreseen.

JenLoves2Dive - October 17, 2014 7:28 PM

I am not trying to be sarcastic, but for someone who is a cruise industry law, you should easily be able to tell the difference between Cancun (a major tourist destination with ZERO cruise ship ports) and Cozumel, a major tourist destination for the dive industry and cruise ships and is on just about over 50% of the cruise ship itineraries in the Caribbean.

We are very proud of our island. I would like to think that whoever wrote this article would clearly know the difference.
Muchas gracias!

Ex Crew Member with CCL - October 17, 2014 7:48 PM

I am not sure about other cuise lines but let me tell you few things about Carnival Cruise Lines:

Unprepared ? really ? when they dont know how to implement new things to save money ? look at the fires onboard, how did they got there ? but wait now they somehow upgrade the whole thing ? with what poor materials and specialists that are... "below any standard"... coz they are cheap labor hand ?

Look at the crew members that they have nowadays, completely unexperienced and brand new, why ? why did the good crew members left ? think about that.

unprepared? who would be prepared when bleach is the answer of everything, and medical care onboard is so low ? when crew members are overworked, tired and underpaid ? poorly cared of, from food, free time, accommodation and so on ?
who ? when the office managers comes onboard just to have a look around and they have no clue of whats happening onboard ? and when they come, crew members onboard are so scared that they will be fired, hiding all the bad and presenting a great story ?

who ? when only crew members know with what sacrifices pass the USPH inspections ?! oh God i dont even want to remember those...

and you are wondering about then being "not ready"

It is a whole different story to see everything as a passenger and experience the life as a crew member... feels like jail... or even worst...


Oh... if you would only know how is life onboard nowadays...

Warren Shaw - October 17, 2014 11:51 PM

I was infected with the Chikungunya virus on St Maartin in December 2013 while on a Royal Caribbean excursion FIVE DAYS after the CDC warned of the ChikV outbreak in the Western Hemisphere. Did Royal Caribbean warn us that we were being discharged into a ChikV HOT ZONE???? NOOOOO!!!!!

Does the CDC have ANY authority to tell cruise ships to avoid hot zones?

Sorry folks, no. The cruise industry is all about the money. When I got ChikV on St Maartin and had severe mobility issues for the months to follow do you think RC gave a damn? NO!!!!

PHYLLIS - October 18, 2014 5:55 AM

THE CRUISE LINE IS NOT AT FAULT.. SHE SHOULD OF KNOW BETTER BY BEING IN THE MEDICAL FIELD.. AND NOT ABOARD THE SHIP. AND KEEP IT SAFE FOR ALL. BECAUSE SHE KNOWS BETTER. BUT WHAT IS DONE. WE CAN'T CHANGE THE PAST. WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH IS IN FRONT OF US.. AND I AGREE AND THINK THE HOSPITAL AND THE LADY SHOULD BE RESPONCEABLE FOR THE PEOPLE TRIP ON THEIR COMPS THAT THE CRUISE LINE OF OFFERING.. AND TAKE HER AND THE HOSPITAL TO COURT....... WE THE PEOPLE SHOULD BE THE ONES LOOKING OUT FOR OTHERS WHEN IT COMES TO AN ISSUE OF A KILLING DESIES. AND NOW ALL NEEDS TO LOOK OUT FOR OUR LIFE SAFETY.ONCE OUT THEIR WE ALL R DOOMED.

loraine - October 18, 2014 10:34 AM

we also need to worry about the crew getting on/off
and changing employees at different ports. Who
is watching them. A cook may bring it on and all
the food has been contaminated.
We have cruised for almost 20 years. Can run for our
lives or swim for our lives either. Stuck and
pray.

Sunil J.Purohit - October 18, 2014 7:48 PM

I think that all the cruise lines should ask for a recent health certificate from those willing to cruise, while keeping the crew members and the guest followed by the ports of call safe.

Ellie Groux - November 4, 2014 3:44 PM

The cruise industry incentivizes lying about 'being healthy' by not allowing passenger cancellation refunds or re-scheduling to happen without expensive travel insurance. Imagine a family of four having saved for years to finally take that special cruise. At the last minute, Mom gets sick with a flu. They are faced with lying on the 'illness-disclosure' or cancelling their trip and losing 75% of the money they've invested (google the cancellation policies of all major cruise lines, this is not an exaggeration). And never mind that Dad doesn't want to take the two kids on his own, or let his sick wife try to go home alone. The actual financial cost of doing the right thing is potetially enormous when you add up the costs of the four fares. The cruise industry needs to step up to the plate with a better family cancellation plan to stop the spread of disease.

Cyndi Blaney - November 17, 2014 1:01 PM

Does anyone know whether there is any kind of protocol set up yet to medivac a possible ebola victim from a cruise ship? Belize would not allow this to happen, as we all saw when the nurse who had been exposed through her job, was refused, despite the US government's efforts. And what happens if you are Canadian? SOL???

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