The alleged robbers of a bus load of Celebrity cruise passengers in St. Kitts are facing trial for a crime committed during an excursion in St. Kitts in November 2010.

We wrote about this incident in our article More Cruise Tourists Robbed, This Time In St. Kitts.

The robbery targeted 17 cruise passengers from the Celebrity Mercury cruise ship. They were on a cruise sponsored excursion called the "Caribbean Journey Masters tour bus."  While the tour bus was heading towards a historic site, rocks and branches were strewn across the bus’ path. The driver exited St. Kitts Robbery - Excursion - Celebrity Cruise Shipthe bus to investigate, and the robbers threw a rock into the windshield of the bus. Two armed, masked men rushed from the bushes and entered the bus.

A local newspaper reported that seventeen passengers, including an infant, were aboard the bus at the time of the robbery. The cruise passengers were robbed of their money, cell phones, jewelry and other personal items. 

As is often the case in St, Kitts, the police did not release the name of the cruise line or cruise ship. Local police and tourism bureaus in the Caribbean are very sensitive to bad press and avoid embarrassing the cruise lines on which they rely for the U.S. tourist dollar.  Nonetheless, the crime caused cruise lines to temporarily suspend cruises to the island.

The St. Kitts & Nevis Observer reports that five men are accused of being involved in the robbery.

St. Kitts has recently been in the "cruise news" lately.  Last month, a young woman from Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas alleged that she was raped aboard an excursion sailboat which sailed between St. Kitts and Nevis.  

 

Photo credit:  St. Kitts & Nevis Observer

The medical journal "Clinical Infectious Diseases" published an article entitled "Disease Transmission and Passenger Behaviors During a High Morbidity Norovirus Outbreak on a Cruise Ship, January 2009."

Of some 1842 passengers on the cruise ship, 1532 (83%) returned questionnaires provided by the researchers.  236 (15%) met the norovirus definition.  

Cruise Ship Norovirus This particular cruise had a passenger vomit in a public area during boarding, as well as 7 other incidents where passengers vomited in public.  The Centers for Disease Control ("CDC") investigators concluded that some sick passengers may have been infected by the vomit (through aerosolized vomit or by touching contaminated surfaces) or they were infected by person-to-person contact, particularly by an ill cabin mate. 

The CDC investigators also concluded that some of the public toilets on the cruise ship were out of hand soap and paper towels and dish washing machines did not do an adequate job sanitizing eating utensils.  These shortcomings might have contributed to the outbreak.

Nothing new with these conclusions.

The two interesting points in my opinion revealed in the study:

Of the 236 ill passengers, 95 (40%) did not report to the infirmary.  We have been told by many passengers on cruises plagued by norovirus that the actual number of sick passengers reported by the cruise lines to the CDC was far less than the actual number of passengers with norovirus.  Cruise lines report only the number of passengers who report to the ship infirmary.  This is a problem we have discussed before – Is Celebrity Cruises Under-Reporting Sicknesses to the CDC?

Perhaps the most interesting statistic is that 62% of ill passengers did not decrease their participation in public activities.  Over 200 passengers ill with norovirus walking around the ship?  Yuck.  This undoubtedly led to the spread of the outbreak.

But most outbreaks of norovirus on cruise ships are no so clear cut.  There appears to be no effort to scientifically determine the source of norovirus outbreaks.  

As we have reported in prior blogs,  the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concludes that whereas "person to person" transmission of norovirus has been documented, "norwalk gastroenteritis is transmitted by the fecal-oral route via contaminated water and foods."  The FDA reports that "water is the most common source of outbreaks and may include .  .  . water stored aboard cruise ships."

When will the CDC conduct a recent study analyzing the potable water and food products after an outbreak?  Compare this study with a study by the CDC in 2002 which the CDC "suspected that initial infection among passengers on cruise 1 originated from a common food or water source and then continued to spread from person to person" and "we identified that eating breakfast at restaurant A on day 2 of the cruise was associated with illness . . ."  Or consider "Characterization of a variant strain of Norwalk virus from a food-borne outbreak of gastroenteritis on a cruise ship in Hawaii" (pin-pointing fruit at a buffet as the likely culprit).
 

Read some of our other articles about cruise ship norovirus:

Cruise Ship Norovirus – Clean the Damn Toilets!

"Cruise Ship Sickness" – Is Norovirus In The Food and Water?

Cruise Ship Norovirus – Something in the Water?

March 24, 2011 Update:  USA Today’s CruiseLog has a story today about this study, indicating that the study involved Celebrity Cruises’ Mercury cruise ship in January 2009.  As we pointed out in an earlier blog, the CDC investigated outbreaks on the Celebrity Mercury in  January and February 2009. 

The interesting thing about the Mercury was that it experienced four cruises a year later, in 2010, with repeated outbreaks of norovirus until the CDC took the unprecedented step of issuing a no sail order, an event we covered last March: Centers for Disease Control: "Shut Mercury Cruise Ship Down!"   It would have been interesting for the CDC to have studied the cause of the norovirus on this cruise ship for months in early 2010.  Why did this particular cruise ship experience so many problems with norovirus?  Certainly it was not just because a passenger puked on embarkation in January 2009?

The Observer in St. Kitts-Nevis is reporting that cruise passengers on a tour bus were robbed this morning, apparently during an excursion from a cruise ship  – "Busload of Tourists Robbed at Gunpoint." 

The robbery reportedly occurred in the Sandy Point area on the island.  A "local tour bus of cruise passengers had been robbed at gunpoint along the island’s main road as the bus made its way to Brimestone Hill."

St. Kitts - Cruise Tour Bus RobberyThe tour bus is identified as the "Caribbean Journey Masters tour bus," which was being driven by owner Urban Herbert at the time of the incident.  While the tour bus was heading towards a historic site, rocks and branches were strewn across the bus’ path.  Mr. Herbert exited the bus to investigate, and the robbers threw a rock into the windshield of the bus. Two armed, masked men rushed from the bushes and entered the bus.

The newspaper reported that seventeen (17) passengers including an infant were aboard the bus at the time of the robbery.  The cruise passengers were robbed of their money, cell phones, jewelry and other personal items.  The police  released a statement that no one was physically injured.

As is often the case, the police did not release the name of the cruise line or cruise ship.  Local police and tourism bureaus in the Caribbean are very sensitive to bad press and avoid embarrassing the cruise lines on which they rely for the U.S. tourist dollar.   

It turns out that the passengers were from the Celebrity Cruises’ Mercury cruise ship. 

The St. Kitts police / tourism people claim that crime like this is unheard of; however, another local newspaper SKNVibes reports in an article – "Tourists Robbed at Gunpoint Near Brimstone Hill" – that local taxi drivers state that this is nothing new and security needs to be improved, particularly when cruise ships arrive. 

I have written many articles about the high crime rates in many of the Caribbean islands frequented by cruise lines – Crime in Caribbean Ports of Call Against Cruise Passengers.  Consider the following articles in the last year alone: 

Antigua – Cruise Passengers Attacked & Robbed in Antigua While Cruise and Tourism Officials Meet and Passenger From Star Clippers Murdered in Antigua

Bahamas 18 Passengers From Royal Caribbean & Disney Cruise Ships Robbed By Shotgun in the BahamasEleven Cruise Passengers Robbed in Nassau, and Cruising To The Bahamas – Is It Safe?

Guatemala – Norwegian Cruise Line Passenger Murdered in Guatemala  

Mexico –  Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines Pull Ships From L.A. Due To Crime In Mexico

St. Lucia – Norwegian Cruise Line Drops St. Lucia and 14 Cruise Passengers Robbed at Anse-La-Raye Waterfall in St. Lucia

St. Thomas – More Caribbean Crime – Carnival Passenger Killed In St. Thomas

 

Additional information: Tourism and Crime in the Caribbean  

December 3, 2010 Update:

"Visitors Warned About Safety in St. Kitts After Tourist Robbery"

A local news station in Charleston South Carolina is reporting that passengers aboard the Mercury cruise ship on the March 21st sailing are ill.  The story is entitled  "Five Cases of Norovirus on Celebrity Mercury Cruise Ship."

The article suggests that the information came from the cruise line, although I do not see a quote or a press release from Royal Caribbean / Celebrity.  The article is rather vague, as I’m sure it’s more accurate to say that some passengers have norovirus-like symptoms.  Stool samples have to be taken and analyzed ashore before anyone can conclude that norovirus exists. (There is still no official determination regarding the cause of the last round of sickness on the Mercury).  

Mercury Cruise Ship - Celebrity Cruises - Norovirus?If this information is accurate, five cases of gastrointestinal sickness is not particularly significant.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) "Vessel Sanitation Program" does not require the data to be reported until at least 2% of the passengers are affected (around 37 passengers).

It is possible that all five passengers were infected before they boarded the cruise ship, because there are reports of norovirus ashore of course.  It is also possible that they contracted a virus after they boarded.

We have received a number of calls and emails asking for information about the Mercury’s March 21st sailing.  Here are some suggestions:

The Cruise Critic message board has a posting "People are Sick Again on the Mercury," where there is mention of a small number of passengers who may be ill.  The cruise community message boards are sometimes a good source of information, particularly when the cruise lines are not forthcoming with information.

I have found that the CDC eventually responds to e-mails and telephone calls.  The email for the CDC is cdcinfo@cdc.gov – be sure to include "Celebrity Mercury Cruise Ship – March 21st sailing" in the title of your email.  The telephone number is 800-232-4636.

The PR person at Royal Caribbean who handles crisis management statements, including norovirus outbreaks, is Cynthia Martinez.  Her email is CynthiaMartinez@rccl.com  I would be interested if anyone receives a response. 

We often hear from passengers directly from the cruise ships.  If we hear something, we will update this article.

March 27, 2010 Update:

The Charleston Regional Business Journal reports that the Mercury has only 6 sick passengers -"Celebrity Mercury Sees Huge Dip in Sickness After Extra Cleaning Measures."  Good news for Celebrity Cruises and the next round of passengers who will be sailing this Monday, March 29th. 

 

Credits:

Photograph         Directory of Charleston

A local news station in Phoenix, Arizona,  ABC-15 (KNXV), is reporting on the latest efforts by Kendall Carver to protect families who cruise in international waters.

In a video interview entitled "Valley Man Pushes for New Laws after Daughter Vanishes,"  Mr. Carver explains that his 40-year-old vanished on the second day of a seven-day Alaskan cruise aboard Celebrity Cruises’ Mercury cruise ship back in 2004.  The cruise ship covered the incident Merrian Carver - Celebrity Mercury Cruise Ship - Disappearance up and then lied to Mr. Carver.

ABC-15 reports that for more than a year, Mr. Carver says the cruise line "provided little information.  He hired private detectives, lawyers and spent quite a bit of money searching for any indication as to what happened.  Eventually, he said they found an employee on the boat who had some information."

"We deposed the steward to find out that he had reported our daughter missing daily for five days on that ship and his supervisor told him to forget it and do his job," said Carver.  "They had not notified the FBI, they had not notified anybody, in fact, they gathered her belongings and got rid of them."

Carver says what many people may not know is that the cruise ship industry doesn’t even have to report crimes ranging from theft to a disappearance.

"You can get the crime report for any city in the country, by zip code, by name, but you can’t get that for cruise ships," Mr. Carver told ABC-15.

To push for new laws and help victims of cruise ship crimes, Carver formed the organization – International Cruise Victims (ICV).  He has been working on this cause everyday for the past five years.

"We have hundreds of volunteers, with next to no money and as of this week we are now in 20 countries around the world," said Carver.  "It’s one of those things as a father I couldn’t walk away from, I still want answers and people need to know what’s going on."

As a result of the ICV’s efforts, a cruise law – called the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2009 – passed the House of Representatives last year.  The bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate this year.

"This would make it mandatory that they immediately advise the FBI," said Carver.  "They (travelers) don’t realize when they get onto these ships they’re going into a foreign country."

To learn more, read about the story of Merrian Carver on the ICV website. Please consider joining  the ICV and making a small donation to keep the grass root organization operating.

The ABC-15 video with Mr. Carver is below:

 

https://youtube.com/watch?v=EPDtNGjt1-E%26hl%3Den_US%26fs%3D1%26rel%3D0

 

For additional information about Ken’s fight to protect the cruising public, consider reading:

Family Wins Battle Against Cruise Ship Industry After Daughter’s Disappearance

 

 

Credits:

Photograph of Mirrian Carver        Ken Carver  

Video        ABC-15 (KNXV) Phoenix, AZ  (Christopher Sign reporting)

So far, no one is reporting an outbreak of sickness aboard Celebrity Cruises’ Mercury cruise ship for its latest – March 21st – sailing.  This is good news after the last three disastrous cruises.

Today’s South Carolina Post and Courier newspaper runs the headline "Mercury Appears Free of Norovirus" in which the newspaper reports: "after several days at sea, the Celebrity Mercury seems finally free of a stomach bug that afflicted nearly 1,000 passengers on its previous three voyages Norovirus - Cruise Ship - Contaminated Food, Water - Infected Food Handler? from Charleston." 

The Cruise Critic message boards for the Mercury also seem to suggest that there is not a problem with gastrointestinal sickness, yet.  

The question remains what was the cause of the last illness outbreak on the Mercury?  Was it norovirus?  Was it transmitted due to contaminated water or food?  An infected food handler?  

So far the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have not said.

Let’s hope that the cruise ship passengers do not get sick for the remainder of the cruise.    

If you are on the cruise and know otherwise, let us hear from you.  Otherwise, enjoy your cruise! 

 

Credits:

Chart        Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, Virginia Tech

At 8:00 p.m. this evening, Celebrity Cruises’ Mercury cruise ship will sail for an eight day cruise to the Caribbean.

The Mercury has been called the "sickest sea at sea."  Even ABC’s Good Morning America posed the question: Celebrity Mercury – Sickest Ship At Sea – Can Cruise Ship Be Cured? 

Local South Carolina ABC affiliate WCIV News – 4 is optimistic that the cruise ship has been thoroughly cleaned over the past 72 hours after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a rare "no-sail" advisory.  The ABC affiliate reports that "officials are now confident the ship is safe."

Celebrity Mercury Cruise Ship - Norovirus? - Confined to CabinBut I would not be so sure.  Gastro-intestinal illnesses can be caused by contaminated food or water, from fecal-oral transmission from crew member to passenger, or from sick passengers who come aboard and infect others.

And the CDC has not determined the cause of the last sickness outbreak.  The CDC report for the Celebrity Mercury’s March 8th -19th sailing indicates that the "causative" agent for the widespread illnesses is "unknown."

Not sure I would set sail on a "sick" cruise ship where the CDC can’t exclude contaminated food or water or ill crew members as the causes. 

Let’s cross our fingers and hope another round of passengers don’t find themselves confined to their cabins.  

March 22, 2010 Update:

According to USA Today, only 1,076 passengers are cruising on the Mercury (which is about 60% full).  Around 800 passengers canceled and obtained what is described as a full refund.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 406 of the 1829 passengers (22.1%) aboard Celebrity’s Mercury cruise ship have reported fever, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.  These CDC statistics are based entirely on the information provided by the cruise line.

In the past week, we have received information from crew members that although they were sick, they were required to continue working.  This raises the issue whether the cruise line is not reporting all ill crew members to the CDC.

We just received the following comment from a passenger, who suggests that you can’t trust the official CDC numbers:  

"We just got back from this cruise March 18th (one day early) and we were ready to come home. Don’t believe the official count of sickness on this boat, I became ill on the second night out around 2 AM. At around 8 AM, my wife called for medical attention and was told they would be to see us in our cabin. We waited. At 5 PM, my wife called medical again and were told they had no record of our calling earlier but the medical crew was on its way around the ship and they would be to our cabin soon. As of today, March 19th., no one from medical has seen me yet unless they saw me passing in the hallways. I heard of many others who were sick and were not seen as well.

My suggestion if you decide to go, carry your own medication with you and be prepared to quarantine yourself to protect others while you are sick if you do get sick. Room service is good."
 

The Celebrity Mercury cruise ship returned to port in Charleston South Carolina today with over 400 sick passengers.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 406 of the 1829 passengers (22.1%) have reported fever, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.

Unlike the last two cruises where the CDC determined that norovirus caused the outbreak, the CDC has not yet determined the cause of the outbreak.  This is probably one of the reasons that the CDC issues a "no travel" advisory for the sick cruise ship.

The traveling public is faced with a cruise line who blames passengers for not washing their hands – the CDC who does not know what the pathogen is or where it’s coming from – and the ugly likelihood that the vessel’s food, water, crew or public surfaces could be contaminated.

We have been inundated with calls and emails from concerned Americans who are scheduled to travel on the Mercury over the course of the next several months.  We also have heard from crew members, including some crew members who complain that although they are sick they are required to keep working.  Some of the work includes changing linens, serving food and delivering ice.  Very disturbing information. 

There is a lot of pressure on crew members to keep outbreaks secret.  We recently ran across a blog from a former crew member who wrote:

I worked on a cruise ship at the beginning of 2001 and we had a lengthy norovirus outbreak – interestingly, the ship did not make the CDC list for that year. Perhaps because we were far away in South America? Or perhaps it was because we were instructed to deny, deny, deny when any passenger asked: No sir, you’re mistaken – the dining rooms are all closed because all the guests are off on tour…not sick in their beds along with half the staff. (Yeah, I was never able to look anyone in the eye and say that.) I never got it, thank God .  .  . "

Here is a recent video from the AP: 

 

 

 

Were you on the last cruise?  Do you have photographs, video or information which may help explain what is happening on the Mercury?  

Let us hear from you.

 

Credits:

Video      AP

 

ABC’s Good Morning America (GMA) discusses Celebrity Cruises’ sick cruise ship, the Mercury, in this morning’s program. 

The Mercury has been hit with three continuous outbreaks of sickness which has plagued hundreds of passengers.  We have covered the outbreaks in prior articles

GMA begins its show by describing the Mercury as the "cruise ship which just can’t seem to be cleaned."

The video contains the caption – "Sickest Ship at Sea – Can Cruise Ship Be Cured?" and explains how norovirus can thrive on cruise ships.

In the GMA video, one passenger asks: "Why do you keep on letting people on this ship when people continuously get sick?"

ABC interviewed its senior health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser to explain noro virus and how passengers are infected on cruise ships: 

"The norovirus is highly contagious and its symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps and chills, Besser said.

The illness typically lasts 12 to 72 hours and usually occurs in places where people are in close quarters, such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes and cruise ships, according to Besser. It is the leading cause of foodborne outbreaks of diarrheal disease, accounting for more than 50 percent of these outbreaks

It spreads through food, water, contaminated surfaces and person-to-person contact, Besser said. He added that the reason it could be so hard to get rid of on a cruise ship is because people can also bring it on board and it can live on surfaces for more than a week.

Cruise ships often visit places that have poor sanitation, so passengers can easily catch it from a restaurant they visited at a port, Besser explained.

Additionally, the infection dose of norovirus is very low, Besser said. It takes only 10 particles of the virus to make you stick, as opposed to the 100,000 particles of salmonella you would have to be exposed to in order to get sick."

The Mercury returns to Charleston tomorrow.  The CDC issued a "no sail" advisory for the sick ship.  It will undergo another round of "enhanced cleaning" – as the cruise line calls it.