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

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 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.

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." 

Cruise Ship Sickness - Norovirus - Pepto Bismol?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 . . . "   

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 Celebrity Cruises - Mercury - Sickness - Illnessconditions 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:

Celebrity Cruises Postpones Cruise From Charleston After Massive Norovirus Outbreak On Mercury Cruise Ship

March 4, 2010 Update:

The Baltimore Sun reports that "about 55 guests have been treated for gastro-like symptoms" on the Mercury cruise ship.

 

Credits:

Pepto Bismol     Shakespeare’s Monkey (fark.com)

Itinerary                Celebrity Cruises  

Noro Virus - Balmoral Cruise Ship The U.K.’s Daily Mail reports that the Balmoral cruise ship – dubbed the "Cursed Cruise Ship of the High Seas" – is facing the prospect of being impounded after it was hit by a vomiting bug for the third time in less than a year.

The Australian newspaper also reports that the Balmoral could be detained after 250 passengers fell ill with the dreaded norovirus.  In an article entitled "Cursed Cruise Ship Balmoral to be Investigated," the newspaper reports that the sick cruise ship is currently making its way from the Canary Islands to Dover, England.

Health official have threatened to detain the cruise ship.  Sandra Westacott, chief executive of the Association of Port Health Authorities, confirmed the cruise ship could be detained by Maritime and Coastguard Agency staff on the advice of health officials:

"It is one of the sanctions available to us – detaining the ship in port so that it cannot do any Balmoral - Noro Virus - Fred Olsen Linefurther harm."

We reported that earlier this year that the Balmoral was attacked by pirates.

The Australian newspaper also reports that in 2009 the cruise ship suffered multiple injuries in storm force gales and was infected with two previous bouts of the vomiting bug.

 

 

Credits:

Drawing   Maxim Magazine