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Cruise Ships Failing Health Inspections Hit a 10 Year High



332 passengers fell ill on the Independence of the seas recently

Cruise ships had their highest number of failed health inspections in a decade, as 14 cruise ships failed to pass the Center for Disease Control standards, according to Market Watch.

The violations ranged from minor citations, such as an incorrectly stored mop, to more serious issues like crews working with serious health issues that could have possibly endangered passenger’s health.

Carnival Cruise Lines operated five of the cruises that received the failing grades. Food handling and preparation are frequent areas which result in failing a health inspection.

“We take these inspections very seriously and share lessons learned and best practices with every ship in our fleet,” Carnival said in a statement.

Periodic inspections are conducted as part of the Vessel Sanitation Program by the U.S. Public Health Service under the aegis of the CDC. The inspections are random and unannounced and occur while a cruise ship is docked at a U.S. port — each ship under the program’s jurisdiction will receive at least two inspections a year, Market Watch reported.

The inspection program is funded by the cruise industry through fees collected for each inspection the fees range from $1,495 to $17,940, with ships paying a larger fee based on their size.

Up to four inspectors will inspect a ship to ensure it is in compliance with current operations guidelines. The inspectors examine eight different areas of a ship which are: dining rooms, kitchens, hotel accommodations, swimming pools, child activity centers, potable water systems, medical facilities, ventilation systems and other common areas on the ship.

Inspectors look to determine whether ship personnel work within specified protocol, including documenting incidents of gastrointestinal illness in addition to maintenance and cleanliness inspection.

Viruses can quickly spread between passengers in close quarters therefore it is vital to make sure workers follow all health protocol.

The inspections are graded on a scale to 100 points, any score below 86 is considered failing. Serious violations must be corrected immediately. Ships that receive failing grades are given a re-inspection “within a reasonable time period,” according to the CDC.

There was a virus outbreak incident recently aboard Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Ovation of the Seas on a two-week cruise to Australia from Singapore; 195 people fell ill with a gastrointestinal bug during their voyage, in early December last year. Altogether, 5,824 guests and crew were aboard the ship, Market Watch reported.

Royal Caribbean described it in a statement as a “short lived virus” and victims were treated by the cruise ship doctor with over the counter medication. Authorities in the Australian state of Tasmania told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that five passengers went to the Royal Hobart Hospital in the state’s capital to receive treatment, also reported was that a crew member had been medically evacuated from the ship.

It is important to note that the number of failed inspections amounts to a tiny amount in the scope of the industry’s performance. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, a total of 25.8 million people took a vacation on a global ocean cruise in 2017, the number is expected to grow according to industry analysis as consistently they have become more popular; in 2009 the number as under 18 million passengers.

There was a total of 449 cruise ships in operation in 2017, and 27 new ones to debut this year. It is conceivable to speculate that only 250 inspections are a rather small sample size for a full gauge of safety; therefore 14 failed inspections are a reason for concern.

More alarming is the fact that in 2016, only 2 ships failed inspections. The last time the number of failed inspections was in the double digits was in 2013 with 10 instances, the only other such occurrence in the past 10 years. In 2011 and 2007, no ships received a failing grade.

A professor in the School of Social Work at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, who tracks operational incidents involving cruise ships is not quite sure of the reason for upticks in failed inspections.

Professor Ross Klein said of the topic: “I’m not sure if ships are being less vigilant or if the people conducting the inspections are being more vigilant.” He looked at inspection reports and found certain cruises had previously passed inspection prior to failing.

The CDC reported 11 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses aboard cruise ships last year only two of those incidents occurred on ships that had received failing grades at some point in the year.

A second Royal Caribbean Cruise encountered an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness aboard the Independence of The Sea in Mid-December, when 332 passengers became sick and they had to return to Florida. WPLG-TV reported that some passengers who were disembarking in Port Everglades, Florida, believed the number of passengers who got sick was higher than what Royal Caribbean said.

Regardless of inspections, the best way to prevent the spread of a stomach virus is to frequently wash your hands, and in a temporary small community floating together in close quarters on a ship, where virus can quickly spread; why risk ruining everyone’s vacation by not washing your hands as a basic precaution.

By: Preston Baker



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