HAl MaasdamThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that 60 passengers aboard the HAL Maasdam are ill with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea.

That is 5.27% of the 1,138 total passengers aboard the cruise ship.

In addition, 11 of the 578 crew members are stricken with the gastrointestinal illness. 

A local CBS station is reporting on the outbreak. 

The CDC hasn’t figured out whether the outbreak is due to norovirus. Unfortunately, given the short turn-around time in port for cruise ships and the agency’s limited investigation, the CDC has never determined whether a GI outbreak on a cruise ship was due to contaminated food or water versus an ill crew member versus being brought aboard by a sick passenger and then spread through poor hygiene or inadequate cleaning.   

This is the seventh GI outbreak this year which falls within the U.S. CDC parameters. Only ships with more than 3% of the passengers ill and calling on a U.S. port are listed. There were 9 outbreaks in all of 2014 versus 7 in just 4 months this year. The HAL cruise ship fleet is one of the more likely locations to contract norovirus if you are a cruiser. 

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Photo Credit: Andrew J Bryson Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

The Coral Princess arrived in Los Angeles today with 71 of the 1,958 cruise passengers aboard the  Princess Cruises’ ship stricken with norovirus symptoms of nausea/vomiting and diarrhea.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the noro-infected passengers comprise 3.63% of the total passenger population on the ship. 6 of 881 crew members are also infected.

The CDC determined the the gastrointestinal outbreak to be norovirus. Unfortunately, the CDC was unable to conclude where the norovirus came from. I am not aware of a single time when the CDC has pinpointed the cause of a cruise ship disease outbreak. The public is left with the "blame game" of wondering whether the cruise ship food or water was contaminated, or the outbreak was caused by a Coral Princess Cruise Shipsick galley worker, or was brought aboard by sick passengers and then spread because of inadequate hygiene and poor cleaning procedures.

Last year, Time magazine titled The 13 Worst Norovirus Outbreaks on Cruise Ships. The overall winner of Time’s top 13 list was Princess Cruises which had five outbreaks on its brand alone: Crown Princess (January 2010) with 396 ill; Crown Princess (February 2012) – 363; Ruby Princess (March 2013) – 276; Coral Princess (February 2009) – 271; and Sun Princess (July 2012) – 216.

The Coral Princess has been one of the Princess cruise ships most likely to be infected with norovirus. Princess and Holland America Line historically have the sickest cruise ships in the cruise industry’s fleet.

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Photo Credit: "Coral Princess – IMO 9229659 (2937202430)" by Cliff from Arlington, Virginia, USA – Uploaded by Navigans. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

HAL MaasdamTen days ago we wrote about a gastrointestinal outbreak on the Holland America Line (HAL) Maasdam which was sailing routes in South America. 

Passengers were stating that numerous people are sick with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other noro virus like symptoms. 

Some passengers complained that they became tired of the HAL captain blaming them for the outbreak.

The public relations people at HAL and parent company Carnival Corporation ignored our requests for information.

The Maasdam finally returned to Fort Lauderdale and the CDC boarded. The CDC is now reporting that 65 of 1096 passengers (5.93%) and 8 of 569 crew (1.41%) were ill with an unspecified gastrointestinal illness.

You can read the CDC report here.

 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Andrew J Bryson

Several cruise passengers have informed us that there is a gastrointestinal outbreak on the Holland America Line (HAL) Maasdam which is currently sailing routes in South America.

Passengers are stating that numerous people are sick with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other noro virus like symptoms. The number of sick passengers and crew has not been released to the people we have communicated with. 

Today one passenger reported: 

"MS Maasdam has been fighting NOROVIRUS pretty much most of the cruise from Rio to Ft Lauderdale. RED ALERT."

HAL MaasdamAnother passenger reported that he is ill and is tired of being blamed by the ship’s captain for the disease:

"I am on the sick Holland America Maasdam which has had Noro virus ever since the departing Rio and won’t be scheduled to be back in Fort Lauderdale until the end of the month. I’m getting tired of hearing the Captain blame the passengers for the spread of the disease. As a physician, I’ve clearly noted that the disease is passed by vectors such as cruise cards, bar staff and wait staff never washing their hands, and the tables and chairs being cleaned with the same rag. Captain it’s not the passengers its your staff." 

The Maasdam is on a 26 day cruise, which started in Rio de Janeiro on March 2nd and will be ending in Fort Lauderdale on March 28th. 

We reached out to HAL and parent company Carnival this morning about this reported outbreak but have not yet received a response. Neither HAL nor Carnival responded. 

Are there other passengers or crew members with information about this alleged outbreak?  Please leave us a message or join the discussion on our Facebook page

 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Andrew J Bryson

Crew members work hard on cruise ships. Waiters and cabin attendants earn wages from Royal Caribbean of only $50 a month. That’s right. $50 a month. That’s something like $1.67 a day. They depend almost exclusively on tips from the passengers to support their families back home.

Utility cleaners are not entitled to tips, and they earn around only $545 a month. That’s around $18.30 a day. 

Crew members work a minimum of 12 hours a day, sometimes more.

Norovirus Explorer of the Seas - Royal CaribbeanThey work 7 days a week. Every single day of the month. For 8 months.

When a norovirus outbreak occurs, they are pressed into duty to try and sanitize the huge ship. That involves hours and hours of extra spraying and wiping and scrubbing everything in sight.

I cannot imagine the extra work required of the cabin attendants who clean as many as 18 cabins and bathrooms a day. I don’t know how these men and women clean so many cabins and bathroom when there’s no gastrointestinal illness outbreak. But when noro virus strikes and the puking and diarrhea starts, there are literally millions and millions of noro infected microbes floating around in an aerosolized form. The microbes can fall into the fabric of the furniture, the duvet covers on the bed, into the carpet fibers, and all the tiny nooks and crannies of the bathroom tiles.  

When the passengers leave the cruise ship at the last day of this cruise from hell, will they tip these hardworking crew members?  Many passengers are mad and feel ripped off. They didn’t obtain the vacations which they paid for with their family. They want their money back from the cruise line. Are they going to track down the public bathroom cleaners responsible for sanitizing all of the public restrooms and give them a $50 tip?

Today Royal Caribbean announced "compensation" for the passengers: a 50% refund and a 50% future credit. Is that fair? Some will accept it. Others will think that they are being mistreated again. Some people were sailing on the Explorer as a replacement cruise after the Grandeur of the Seas caught on fire last year. Are they interested in testing their luck one more time? 

Whatever you think of the cruise line’s offer of compensation, remember one thing. The crew is not getting a nickel extra from the cruise line. So if you are a passenger and want to bitch, whine, moan and complain, don’t forget about all of those crew members you left behind. Remember that they were the ones cleaning up all of your vomit and removing your bio-hazard bags. They are not receiving any compensation at all.  They are busy trying to get the cruise ship in shape for the next 3,000 guests who will soon board.

Explorer of the Seas Norovirus

Photo Credit: Top – Getty Images

With the Explorer of the Seas sailing back to New Jersey with almost 650 victims of norovirus related nausea and diarrhea, Time magazine just published the article Cruise Out of Control: The 13 Worst Norovirus Outbreaks on Cruise Ships.

The worst outbreak is, of course, Royal Caribbean’s Explorer but the cruise line and its sister line Celebrity Cruises have the top three worst outbreaks and five of the top 13 worst outbreaks.

The passengers and crew aboard the Celebrity Mercury suffered through outbreaks on five consecutive  sailings back in 2000, including 443 sick in February 2000 and 419 in March. The Centers Norovirus Cruise Shipfor Disease Control and Prevention finally issued a rare no-sail order because the ship kept infecting the passengers and the cruise line wouldn’t stop sailing.

The overall winner of Time’s top 13 list is Princess Cruises which had five outbreaks on its brand alone: Crown Princess (January 2010) – 396; Crown Princess (February 2012) – 363;  Ruby Princess (March 2013) – 276; Coral Princess (February 2009) – 271; and Sun Princess (July 2012) – 216.

The disturbing thing about the list is that the Centers for Disease Control were unable to publish a single conclusion about where the norovirus came from. The public is left with the "blame game" of wondering whether the cruise ship food or water was contaminated, or the outbreak was caused by a sick galley worker, or was brought aboard by sick passengers and then spread because of inadequate hygiene.

From time to time, we will feature a reader’s comments to one of our articles. The motto of our blog is "everything the cruise lines don’t want you to know," so we like to offer our readers a peek inside what really happens during cruises.

Here are the comments from a passenger who was aboard the Celebrity Summit during the recent norovirus outbreak we reported on last week:     

"While just more than 300 passengers is the official number, I was on that cruise and I can assure you that many, many more were sick.

Celebrity Summit - NorovirusThe majority of people did not report to the ship’s doctor, preferring to stay in their rooms and tough it out. Each night during the height of the infection, many of the large tables in the dining rooms were virtually empty. Crew members and entertainers were also sick. Many people we’re overtaken with little warning, and some did not get to the bathroom before vomiting or experiencing diarrhea. Often the halls in the stateroom areas reeked of excrement.

The staff worked very hard to keep things cleaned up and sanitized, but there were not sufficient staff on board to deal with this huge health issue. Unaffected staterooms were not kept up to the expected standard, as staff were always busy dealing with cleaning and disinfecting rooms where people were sick."

Do you have a comment or a story to tell about your recent cruise experience?  Let us hear from you.

 

Photo Credit: News 12 New Jersey

BBC News has an article about a gastrointestinal virus outbreak sickening passengers aboard a Fred Olsen cruise ship this week.

Last week we reported on the Fred Olsen Black Watch cruise ship (what a dreadful name) which was nicknamed the "Black Death" by norovirus infected passengers who have suffered through three consecutive sailings aboard what some people are also calling the "plague ship."

Around 10% of Black Watch passengers have been infected over the last month.

Fred Olsen Boudicca Cruise Ship - NorovirusBBC News says that the Boudicca is the latest Fred Olsen ship to become sick. The cruise line confirms there has been an outbreak of what the cruise line is saying is a "a gastroenteritis-type illness" on board the cruise ship which left Belfast last week. That means that the cruise line doesn’t know exactly what type of sickness it is.

Is it norovirus or a e-coli outbreak? Fred Olsen doesn’t seem to know.

This is not the first outbreak this year on the Boudicca this year. Read: Our Plague Ship Diary: After Ten Days on Cruise Hit by Norovirus, Two Friends Present the Holiday Snaps from Hell

What caused the latest outbreak? Contaminated food or water?  Sick crew members?  Fred Olsen is not saying if it knows. Usually the cruise lines are quick to blame everything but the cruise ship and its crew. The "dirty handed passengers" of the nasty passengers are usually blamed. 

What we know from the BBC is that at least 72 Boudicca passengers out of the 760 or so passengers are ill. That’s around 9%, which is many times the percentage of sick passengers which the Centers for Disease Control requires to be reported in the U.S. 

The cruise line says that the cruise ship will return to Belfast tomorrow where the ship will be cleaned and sanitized. The ship will then quickly head off on a 12-night cruise to Madeira and the Canaries. 

Cruise lines like Fred Olsen tout that "the health, safety and well-being of all our guests and crew is paramount." But is this true?

A responsible company would make the best effort to find out exactly what type of illness affected the passengers, such as testing the food and/or determining whether food handlers were sick and not properly quarantined (a problem recently noted by health inspectors during U.S. CDC Vessel Sanitation Program inspections).

Right now there are over 70 Boudicca passengers spewing vomit and spraying diarrhea in their cabins and bathrooms. (Watch Vomiting Larry) Many millions of infected particles of some type of virus are covering the floors, carpets, bed covers, and nooks and crannies of these cabins. Yes, the cabins will be cleaned thoroughly (we hope) but will a few dozen infected particles linger to greet a new round of passengers? Its takes just 20 particles or so to get sick.

The new passengers, of course, are not told whether their cabins were the scene of a puke-and-diarrhea-fest just hours before they arrived.

It seems like an impossible task for the poor cabin attendants pressed into action for such a short period of time to try and kill off all of the noro or e-coli in the cabins after such intense purging of the stomach and bowels of the sick people. But what if the culprit is in the food from the galley?  There is no way that the cruise ship will find out in the limited time when the sick disembark the ship and the healthy arrive. There’s not enough time to slow down and take an extra couple of days to let the epidemiologists perform their job of finding the causative viral or bacterial agent and determining how it came aboard the ship.    

Instead, we hear cruise lines telling the new passengers: "Trust us. Your health is our highest concern."

The last several articles on this blog have involved gastrointestinal (G.I.) virus outbreaks on cruise ships.

The cruise ships involved are Holland American Lines’ Volendam and Veendam, (HAL ships, historically, are the most likely to be contaminated with norovirus), the Discovery cruise ship which was held up in Liverpool for what the cruise lines describe as “enhanced cleaning,” and most recently the Celebrity Millennium which arrived in Alaska with a bunch of sick passengers who went ashore and coughed all over the city of Seward.

These ships join the list of other sick cruise ships this year. There are seven official reports of Cruise Ship NorovirusG.I. cases so far this year documented by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But the list is incomplete. The CDC requires cruise lines to report outbreaks only when a certain percentage (more than 3%) of the passengers become ill. If the cruise ship does not call upon a U.S. port, then the CDC has no jurisdiction and there is no obligation to report any G.I. cases to the U.S. federal government.

Most countries around the world don’t require reporting of cruise G.I. cases. So when you read the CDC database of G.I. outbreaks on cruise ships, remember that this is only those cruises which dock at a U.S. port and where at least 3% of the passenger report to the infirmary.

My partners at my law firm ask me why I blog about G.I. cases because our firm rarely handles such cases. Why don’t we handle G.I. cases? For a couple of reasons:

It is usually impossible to prove where the virus originated. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded long ago that most norovirus outbreaks are due to contaminated food and water. No, not due to the dirty hands of the cruise passengers as the cruise lines want you to believe, but noro-laden food or contaminated water.

But general propositions are no help in a particular case. The CDC makes no real effort to pinpoint the epicenter of the outbreak on the cruise ship.

The CDC usually can figure out the causative agent (i.e., noro, e-coli, etc.) but that’s where the federal agency’s inquiry ends. The CDC has but a few hours to board the cruise ship and conduct its Cruise Ship Norovirusinvestigation once the ship returns to a U.S port. It does not have the time or the resources to perform a full blown epidemiology assessment during the limited time the ship is in port.

Was the water well used to irrigate the potatoes or lettuce which were loaded onto the cruise ship contaminated by noro-infected swine feces that leeched into the well supplies? You will never know because no one is doing any investigation to find out.

The cruise lines don’t want such sophisticated analysis either, because the most likely cause of norovirus outbreaks is not bad passenger hygiene but contaminated food and water. It’s bad for cruise business for an official U.S. agency to point the finger at contaminated water or infected food, or to conclude that food handlers worked while infected with noro and, in turn, contaminated 150 plates of salad consumed by the passengers.

Illnesses due to e-coli or norovirus are nasty. You’re afraid that you are going to die and then you’re afraid that you’re not going to die, the joke goes. But it’s no joke. Sick passengers do die, particularly elderly passengers with suppressed immune system and especially those who are ignored by the ship doctors or those who receive bad care while on the cruise ship.

The rights of ill or dying passenger infected with norovirus on cruise ships are limited. The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) prohibits the recovery of damages for elderly retirees. Their deaths are financially meaningless if they become sick during a cruise and then later die either on or off of the cruise ship. Cruise lines love DOHSA. Also, sick passengers who receive bad medical care by the ship doctors usually have no recourse against the cruise lines because the ship doctors are legally considered to be “independent contractors” for whom the cruise lines have no responsibility. And neither the cruise lines nor the CDC or FDA are trying to find out where the norovirus came from in the first place.

Cruise lines are cutting back on the testing of water, placing increasing demands on its crew members who often work while sick, hiding dirty galley equipment from CDC inspectors, and pushing their ships and staff past reasonable limits leaving little time and resources to maintain a clean and hygienic environment. 

Cruise Ship NorovirusIt’s easier for the cruise lines to blame the passengers for poor hygiene and then stand behind the CDC’s and FDA’s indifference and archaic laws like DOHSA which have insulated the cruise industry from the consequences of their negligence and recklessness for decades.

In a nutshell, we don’t handle G.I. virus cases because the deck is stacked against the cruise passenger. Cruise passengers typically don’t know when they board a noro-infected ship that they have few rights and that the cruise line will blame them if they get sick. We blog about the problem because it is an insight into the way which the cruise industry operates its business and treats its customers.

The cruise lines say that the “health and safety of cruise passengers are its highest priorities.” That’s not true. We prefer that the cruise passengers understand that before they walk up the gangway into a noro-contaminated ship.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the Celebrity Millennium cruise ship sailed to Seward, Alaska last Friday, May 10th, with an elevated number of passengers and crew with a gastrointestinal illness.  164 of its 1,963 passengers and 30 of its 935 crew members experienced the gastro-illness.

The CDC states that the “causative agent” (type of pathogen) is “unknown,” although at least one newspaper, the Seward City News, states that the sickness outbreak is believed to be caused by norovirus.

Comments to the newspaper complained about cruise passengers coughing and hacking in public and the locals having to be on higher alert to wash their hands when cruise ships come into port.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Captain-Tucker

Celebrity Millennium Cruise Ship Norovirus