The purpose of the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is to assist the cruise ship industry to "prevent and control the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses on cruise ships." VSP operates under the authority of the U.S. Public Health Service Act.
USPH sanitation inspectors conduct inspections twice a year on cruise ships when they are in a U.S. port. The inspections are supposedly a surprise, although many crew members have stated that federal inspectors sometimes give advance notice of the inspections to the cruise ships. A score of 85 or below constitutes a failed sanitation score, and often leads to the firing of the shipboard Food & Beverage department heads and/or managers and always result in increased work by the shipboard employees.
Market Watch just published a comprehensive article, by reporter Jacob Passy, titled Record Number of Cruise Ships Failed Health and Safety Inspections in 2017, concluding that there were 14 instances where a cruise ship failed a sanitation inspection last year. The article found that Carnival Cruise Line cruise ships received five failing grades, in addition to one one failure this year.
Carnival claims that its food handling and preparation are of the "highest quality, which seems questionable regarding the details of the scores like on the Carnival Breeze (77), Carnival Triumph (78), Carnival Vista (79), Carnival Legend (83), and Carnival Paradise (83). The Carnival Liberty failed this year with a score of only 83.
The Carnival Vista was re-inspected yesterday and receive a score of only 88, a passing but not a good score coming off of such a spectacular failure last year. The CDC has not published the re-inspection score yet.
Carnival also claims that it "immediately" corrected the unsanitary conditions found by the inspectors. (Carnival ships failed inspections 4 times in the last 2 months). But the truth is that Carnival has still not even filed a "corrective actions" report for the Carnival Vista which failed the USPH inspection last year. The report found that not only did Carnival try to intentionally hide food and dirty galley equipment in crew quarters, but the the USPH noted that a Carnival supervisor disciplined a food handler who was experiencing acute gastrointestinal virus symptoms when he did not report to work.
The VSP requires cruise lines to correct the non-conforming conditions and file a "corrective report" promptly after the violation. The Vista failed its inspection over six weeks ago, but Carnival has still not filed a corrective report as of today’s date, January 27, 2018.
Market Watch state that the CDC can advise a ship not to sail if "particularly egregious violations are uncovered," which may be true in theory but never occurs in reality. It’s difficult to imagine more egregious violations than what the USPH found on the Vista last month, but there is no evidence that the cruise line has even bothered to file a report admitting to its violations and outlining its corrective actions.
Part of this problem is that there is often a cozy relationship between federal inspectors and cruise line officials where unsanitary conditions are sometimes not noted or enforced. Indeed, it took over a month for the CDC to even publish the failed inspections on the Carnival Breeze and Carnival Triumph last month on its official website.
A shore-side restaurant with a failed health inspection will quickly find a "closed due to health inspection" placard (photo right) taped on its front door. For health violations on cruise ships, however, the public has to search the online database, which is often not current, for information.
A cruise ship which is caught intentionally hiding food and galley equipment in its crew quarters, or which does not timely submit a corrective report, should be barred from sailing. A local shore-side restaurant would be shut down in a minute for such unsanitary conditions. But the USPH often bends to the cruise line’s the-show-must-go-on mentality.
Market Watch interviewed cruise expert cruise expert Dr. Ross Klein who noted that a failed CDC inspection is all the more questionable when looking at the details of the reports for cruise ships that have actually passed inspections. According to Dr. Klein, “you can get 100% but there can still be a number of citations for things that were not up to standards."
Market Watch wrote that one ship which received a 100% score was cited for storing boxes of fruit juice near raw egg shells and for one crew member was working while showing symptoms of gastroenteritis.
Dr. Klein also noted that the Vessel Sanitation Program applies only to cruise ships calling on U.S. ports. Few countries outside of the U.S. inspect cruise ships for sanitation problems.
Which cruise ships which flunked the USPH sanitation inspections last year? See the list below:
- Carnival Breeze (77);
- Carnival Legend (83);
- Carnival Paradise (83);
- Carnival Triumph (78);
- Carnival Vista (79);
- Ferries Del Caribe Kydon (55, 61);
- Japan Cruise Line’s Pacific Venus (76);
- Japan Grace Line’s Ocean Dream (82);
- Oceania Regatta (84);
- Paradise Cruise Line’s Grand Celebration (84);
- Ponant’s Le Boreal (84);
- Princess Cruises Crown Princess (84); and
- Victory I Partners, Ltd.’s Victory 1 (78);
Photo credit: Carnival Liberty – Workman – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia.