P&O OceanaA month ago, a crew member aboard the P&O Oceana notified me that the cruise ship failed a sanitation inspection by the enters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) while the ship was in port in Charleston, South Carolina.  Oceana received a score of 82; 85 or lower is considered a failure.

I have been checking the CDC’s online inspection scores since then. I have been asking the CDC when it will release its report on the Oceana.

The report was finally released today. You can read the report here. The report indicated that several back-flow prevention devices, to prevent the contamination of potable water, did not have test results and appeared not to be tested. The ship’s Riviera swimming pool and Crystal whirlpool did not have adequate levels of chlorinated and bromine, failed to have hair and lint strainers / filters and were not disinfected. The inspector closed the recreational water facilities on the ship.

The report also revealed that a food handler had an onset of Acute Gastroenteritis (AGE) and exhibited symptoms at 9:00 A.M. in the morning but did did not report to the medical center until 11:20 A.M. A review of the crew member’s work history indicated that this crew member worked, notwithstanding his illness, from 7:30 A.M. until 10:30 A.M.

The ship’s galley appeared dirty. There were comments like “the tile grout in this area was soiled and in disrepair.”  “The deck below under counter refrigerator . . . had a significant buildup of more than a week’s accumulation of food debris, dirt, equipment parts, and what appeared to be insect remains.” Food service equipment was broken or out of service and many operational ovens and ice-makers were overflowing their drip pans and/or leaking onto the floor.

Oceana has not prepared a “corrective action report” in response to the failed score, as required by the CDC.

In an era when cruise lines are quick to blame every single norovirus outbreak on the passengers, this CDC report provides an insight into how deficient water sanitation and disgusting food handling practices by a cruise line can jeopardize the health of the traveling public.

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April 4, 2016 Update: The CDC vessel sanitation inspectors inspected the P&O Oriana in February.  Although the cruise ship passed with a score of 90, there were several significant sanitation problems including dirty and out of service galley equipment.  Also food handlers working while ill with gastrointeritis: “A Chef de Partie experienced onset of GI symptoms on 20 January 2016 at 6:45 am. This crew member worked from 7 am to 11 am, took lunch at the crew mess, then returned to work from 1 pm to 5 pm. The chef reported his symptoms to the medical center at 6 pm.”   You can read the report here.

April 5, 2016 Update:  Cruise Law News was quoted today in the Southampton’s Daily  Echo and the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

Fortune magazine also covered the story, writing that it “raises questions about the industry’s squeaky-clean image, and indeed, that there may be more unreported cases that were either ignored or dismissed by the sickened passengers or the cruise lines themselves.”

April 6, 2016 Update:  FoxNews covers the story today – Health inspectors find cockroaches, ‘potentially hazardous’ food aboard two luxury cruise ships.  The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) interjects the blame-the-passenger-wash-your-hands excuse but ignores the fact that crew members were handling food while contagious and the ship’s galley was found to be unsanitary and potentially hazardous to the guests’ health.

Photo credit: Piergiuliano Chesi, CC BY 3.0, commons / wikimedia.

Oceania RivieraYesterday we received information about the current cruise of the Oceania Rivieria which is sailing through the Caribbean (Miami March 20-April 3). "The captain came on the intercom yesterday informing the passengers that a large number of passengers had come down with flu like/gastrointestinal issues and the CDC had been informed. The ship ported at their first stop Santa Marta, Colombia as scheduled today."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now officially reported the third norovirus outbreak on the cruise ship.  

The first recent outbreak was during the November 18 – December 2, 2015 sailing and involved 74 ill passengers. The second outbreak occurred during the  February 12-22, 2016 sailing which had to be ended early and involved at least 124 sick passengers. We wrote about how the crew members had to work overtime, often off the clock and without extra pay, to try and super-clean the cruise ship. 

This latest outbreak involves at least 52 passengers who are ill with norovirus. Zero crew members were reported ill during the current cruise.

Unfortunately, the under-staffed CDC never tries to conduct a meaningful epidemiology assessment to determine whether the outbreak can be traced to a particular type of food contamination, an ill food handler, poor cleaning of the ship or an ill passenger who brought the noro aboard the ship. 

Expect the number of affected passengers to increase during the cruise notwithstanding the extra hours spraying and wiping by the crew. 

So far this year, there have been 8 gastrointestinal outbreaks reported to the CDC by cruise ships calling on U.S ports. 

Photo Credit: Kefalonitis94 CC BY-SA 4.0, creative commons / wikimedia.

Golden Princess9News in Australia reports that the Golden Princess cruise ship docked in Melbourne this morning “after hundreds of passengers were struck down with gastro.”

The newspaper reports that “more than 300 passengers” on-board the cruise ship are believed to have been affected with a gastrointestinal illness.

Princess Cruises spokesman praised the ship’s crew and medical personnel who handled what the newspapers said is believed to be norovirus.

In the last two month, Princess Cruises has experienced a number of gastrointestinal outbreaks, on the Ocean Princess, Diamond Princess, and the Crown Princess.

Princess Cruises has experienced the most gastrointestinal outbreaks in the last decade – over 20.

Norovirus is primarily a food-borne virus which often spreads through contaminated food or water.  It can be spread by food handlers, people who touch contaminated surfaces and from person to person transmission.

Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Boulet, CC BY 3.0.

Norwegian GemEarlier this week, we reported that health officials banned the Norwegian Gem from calling on St. Maarten because a number of passengers were ill with a gastrointestinal illness. The NCL cruise ship then sailed on to Tortola where it called on the port there.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now officially reporting that 128 of 2,882 cruise passengers (4.44%) and 7 of 1,100 of crew members (0.64%) on the Gem have been ill during the cruise with norovirus. 

Although it was suggested on the cruise ship that the cause of the outbreak may be contaminated water, there has been no information released to the public confirming or excluding this possible cause. Norovirus is primarily a food-borne disease. Outbreak News Today correctly states that "norovirus is typically spread through contaminated food and water, touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth and close contact with someone who is vomiting or has diarrhea."

Unfortunately, the CDC has limited resources and does not attempt to conduct an epidemiology assessment regarding the source of the norovirus outbreak.    

Photo credit: Corgi5623 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.       

Several passengers on the Norwegian Gem have contacted me, saying that health officials in St. Maartan have reportedly prohibited the NCL cruise ship from porting there.

The passengers are saying that there is a gastrointestinal outbreak reported on the Gem, thought to be norovirus.

I have not previously heard there was any type of outbreak on the ship. Anyone have information?

Photo credit: Corgi5623 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 

March 18, 2016 Update: We are receiving some interesting comments on our Facebook page, including one suggesting that the source of the outbreak may be contaminated port water – rather than the cruise lines’ usual excuse of cruise passengers blamed for not washing their hands.

March 21, 2016 Update: The Gem next called on Tortola. Many local citizens are not happy. VI allows cruise ship to dock despite alleged Norovirus infection outbreak

 

  

Carnival SunshineThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the Carnival Sunshine is suffering through a gastrointestinal outbreak. This is the fifth GI outbreak of a U.S. based cruise line this year according to the CDC,

The CDC says that 118 of 3,005 (3.93%) of passengers sickened with noro during the cruise in addition to 5 crew members out of 1,142 (0.43%).

As I have mentioned in other recent articles, Carnival cruise lines has reported only three norovirus outbreaks to the CDC for U.S. based cruise since since 2006.  This is to be sharply contrasted with the norovirus outbreaks reported by Carnival owned Princess and HAL which have reported 32 GI outbreaks between them in the last decade.

Photo Credit: Piergiuliano Chesi 3.0 creative commons / wikimedia

March 5, 2016 Update: The CDC reported that the number of passengers sickened during the cruise is 173 with 5 crew members also stricken with noro virus.

 

Ocean PrincessThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that there is a gastrointestinal outbreak on the Ocean Princess cruise ship, with 43 of 603 (7.13%) of passengers ill during the cruise and 5 of 387 (1.29%) crew members sick.

The Princess cruise ship is currently sailing on a February 13 – March 7, 2016 itinerary. The cruise ship is scheduled to go into dry dock on March 7th.

Princess has 50% of the four cruise ship norovirus that meet the CDC’s criteria so far this year. This should be no surprise to anyone who follows gastrointestinal outbreaks on cruise ships.

As I pointed out in my last article about a gastrointestinal outbreak on a Princess cruise ship (the Crown Princess), during the six year period from 2010 to the current date, Princess Cruises experienced the most norovirus outbreaks on its cruise ships calling on a U.S. port, according to the CDC. Including this most recent outbreak, Princess has reported twenty (20) cases to the CDC during this time period.

In contrast, Carnival cruise lines reported just two (2) cases during the same time period.

Celebrity Cruises reported 15 cases (and Royal Caribbean reported 9). HAL also reported a high number (12) during the 2010 to 2016 time period. Cunard reported 4; NCL -3; Oceania – 3; and Crystal – 2.

Anyone have an explanation why there have been 10 times as many CDC-reported GI outbreaks on Princess cruise ships compared to Carnival cruise line ships?

Photo Credit: Pjotr Mahhonin – CC0, Wikipedia

Passengers on the Anthem of the Seas are stating that as of Monday, as the cruise ship continued to head back to New Jersey for deep cleaning, the captain informed them that 109 passengers are sick with norovirus.

Other passengers also tell me that there are more than this sick, but they don’t want to go to the medical facility.    

According to the CDC, cruise lines are required to provide notification to the federal agency when the gastrointestinal illness (GI) count exceeds 2% of the total number of passengers or crew onboard. The CDC-required notification is for totals for the entire voyage.

There are between 4,180 passengers (double occupancy) and 4,905 passengers (maximum occupancy) on the cruise ship so 2% turns out to be between 83 and 98 passengers. So expect Anthem of the Seas - Norovirusthe CDC to officially announce that the Anthem to be the fourth U.S. based cruise ship with an norovirus outbreak this year. 

The much ballyhooed "severe storm" that supposedly caused Royal Caribbean to cancel two days of the cruise is nowhere to be seen, as passengers report good weather and calm cruising. 

Royal Caribbean, which didn’t mention the topic of norovirus until passengers went to Twitter complaining of the virus outbreak, denied on Twitter that the outbreak was the reason behind returning to port in New Jersey early. But many news sources blended norovirus into the story after an executive with the Associated Press aboard the cruise ship said that the ship’s captain and its cruise director made announcements about norovirus sickening people on the ship.

The AP executive was also quoted saying that the cruise ship "workers are scurrying around like ants, scrubbing down handrails, tables and any other surfaces that can be washed" – an apt although somewhat derogatory description. This is hardly what the cruise line wants the passengers to think about on a cruise marketed as a relaxing pleasure cruise.  

Whoever you believe, whether the Anthem of the Seas is returning to avoid the so-called storm or because of a virus outbreak, there is no doubt that the Anthem’s reputation is being mauled in the court of public opinion.  New York Magazine called her the "bad luck cruise ship."  CNN calls her the seemingly perpetually "storm battered" cruise ship. Some people on Twitter are asking "Anthem of the Seas: Cursèd ship of doom, or just a run of bad luck?"  

Of course, any mention of the Anthem today is accompanied by photos and video of the raucous cruise earlier this month which reminds everyone of the fact that the ill-fated ship sailed into the violent storm.

The "cursed" cruise ship theme was blasted in the headlines of the popular U.K. tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail which asked "Is the Anthem of the Seas Cursed?" The Inquisitr, Newsmax, and the Examiner, among others, all joined the Daily Mail in labeling the Anthem "cursed" in their news Anthem of the SEas Norovirusarticles.   

So the overworked crew members continue to spray and scrub everything in sight. Photos sent to me from the ship show the crew members wiping all rails and counters (photo top) and wrapping a rack of cookies-(photo bottom) with a Saran-Wrap like film, apparently to keep the surfaces and food clean. (I have never seen this before).  

Regarding the crew members who had to deal with storm-frazzled passengers three weeks ago, and are now pressed into non-stop noro-eradication measures, I’m sure that they feel that the Anthem of the Seas may indeed be cursed.

March 1, 2016 Update 5:00 PM:  The CDC disease data-base just listed the Anthem of the Seas. It lists "unknown" rather than norovirus so we may find out that there is some other source of infection like e-coli or something more exotic. 125 passengers and 16 crew members are infected at this point. The CDC recommends sending 10 more crew members and 10 contract cleaners to the ship as well as 4 Hotel and Housekeeping Operations Managers, 3 Public Health staff, one nurse from the cruise line corporate office.   

A newspaper in New Jersey published a story that quotes a passenger on the cruise ship saying that the CDC came on the ship in Puerto Rick and tested for e-coli.  

This evening Royal Caribbean announced via Twitter that that it’s "closely watching a large storm off the coast of Cape Hatteras. We want to be extra cautious when it comes to weather in the area." The cruise line decided that it is canceling the last two days of the current Anthem of the Seas cruise which will skip Barbados and St Kitts in order to "avoid a severe storm & provide guests with a comfortable journey back home."

Is this the same cruise line which recklessly sailed into a much larger storm three weeks ago?

The forecasted wind and wave conditions seem modest compared to the weather conditions forecast prior to the disastrous cruise on February 6th when the cruise ship sailed into waves over 30 feet and encountered hurricane strength winds.

So why the cautious approach today? Is this a cruise line that really learned its lesson?  Is this the result of new decision makers back in Miami who decide whether the Royal Caribbean ships will encounter rough weather? Remember, Royal Caribbean announced that the last storm revealed what the cruise line said were "gaps in our planning system that we are addressing."

Royal Caribbean also said that it was strengthening its storm avoidance policy, and allegedly added resources at its corporate headquarters in Miami to provide additional guidance to its captains. 

So is the decision this evening to cut the cruise short the result of more cautious meteorologists and fewer macho captains?  I doubt it. The weather reports seem pretty tame. 

It seems that the decision to cancel the remainder of the Anthem cruise is motivated more in order to avoid bad press than bad weather. Why? Passengers are reporting that over 65 people have come down with symptoms of the dreaded norovirus. A code red is underway. If there are 65 official reports, chances are that the true number is much higher. There will be what the cruise lines call "enhanced" cleaning when the ship returns to New Jersey on Wednesday in an effort to kill the noro.  Royal Caribbean’s reputation can’t take a massive noro outbreak on the heels of subjecting its guests to a massive storm earlier this month.

So what happens when the cruise ship returns to port 2 days early?  If this were truly just a weather related event, then the passengers, whose flights home are still scheduled two days later, should be able to stay on the ship. But if passengers are forced to leave the ship early for the anticipated super cleaning, it would seem that Royal Caribbean is more concerned with eradicating norovirus from its huge cruise ship than risking its guests encountering another round of rough weather.  

Anthem of the Seas Captain's Letter

The first norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship calling on a U.S. port this year has been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, no surprise to anyone that follows cruise ship outbreaks, it involved a Princess Cruises cruise ship. 

The Crown Princess just returned to Los Angeles following a two week cruise from January 3 – 18, 2016. 180 of the 3,060 passengers (5,88 %) aboard the cruise ship were sick with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. 24 of 1,168 crew members (2.05%) became ill with gastrointestinal symptoms which the CDC confirmed were due to norovirus.  You can read the CDC report here.

During the six year period from 2010 to the current date, Princess Cruises experienced the most Princess Cruise Ship Norovirus Outbreaknorovirus outbreaks on its cruise ships calling on a U.S. port, according to the CDC. Princess reported nineteen (19) cases to the CDC during this time period. Carnival cruise lines reported just two (2) cases during the same time period.  

Celebrity Cruises reported 15 cases (and Royal Caribbean reported 9).  HAL also reported a high nummber (12) during the 2010 to 2016 time period.

Cunard reported 4; NCL -3; Oceania – 3; and Crystal – 2.  

The Crown Princess alone has suffered through five (5) norovirus outbreaks since 2010 to the present. Before the current outbreak, the last outbreak on the Crown Princess was from October 18 to November 16, 2014. Prior to that, it was February 5 to 12, 2014. It also experienced back-to-back outbreaks from January 29 to February 4, 2012 and February 4 to February 9, 2012 (photo above).

The Crown Princess alone experienced two and one-half time more norovirus outbreaks that the entire fleet of Carnival cruise lines from 2010 to the present!

So why is Princess Cruises far more prone to norovirus outbreaks than Carnival cruise lines, for example?

The cruise industry always blames the passengers for bringing the virus aboard, rather than its food handlers, or contaminated food or water. So are Princess Cruises customers the sickest and the least hygienic cruisers around? Do they wash their hands the least of any cruisers?  That seems like a absurd argument to make.

Is there a correlation between the age of the cruise ships and gastrointestinal outbreaks?  Are different food sources and food handling techniques a more reasonable explanation?  How about different sanitation procedures?  I’m not sure. The CDC doesn’t have time to determine the source of the norovirus outbreak (sick food handlers versus contaminated food or water or a sick passenger) so it is of no help.  

But blaming the passengers when one cruise line (and one cruise ship in particular) has far more gastrointestinal outbreaks than its competitors is certainly not the answer.