Come Sail Away: Cruise Ship Health Fail

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on April 12, 2018

The cruise is a very popular vacation choice, boasting over 20 million passengers per year globally. With almost 14 million of those passengers being Americans, it is clear that the United States keeps the cruise business afloat. And in return, the U.S. sees over $37 billion each year pumped into its economy. The relationship between the cruise industry and the United States is definitely symbiotic, but it could begin to decline if health and safety issues are not swiftly corrected aboard many of the major ships visiting U.S. ports.

As reported in January 2018, the fourth ship from a major cruise line failed a U.S. health inspection in just a 90-day time frame.

Our local Port of Seattle has Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Oceania Cruises, and Royal Caribbean; so it’s in our best interests to have a look at what’s happening at sea.

Cruise Dangers

A cruise is marketed as a relaxing opportunity to get away without the hassle of driving, planning activities, or even thinking about cooking. Everything that you could possibly need is just a short walk away and staffed with crew who are eager to accommodate your every need. It is the ultimate all-inclusive vacation. But, cruises are not without their dangers:

  • Since 1979, there have been 172 known deaths aboard cruise ships. That averages to over four deaths each year, which is a well-kept industry secret.
  • In the last 20 years, 72 fires have occurred on cruise ships.
  • The number of cruise ships failing health and safety inspections hit a 10-year high in 2017, with about 7% of the inspected ships failing.

U.S. Health Inspections

Due to the huge number of cruise patrons from the United States, the U.S. Public Health Service works under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct a Vessel Sanitation Program. These inspections happen twice each year, are unannounced, and occur when a ship is docked at a U.S. port of entry. During the inspection, between one and four inspectors examine the ship. The eight main points of interest include:

  • Hotel accommodations
  • Swimming pools
  • Dining rooms and kitchens
  • Child activity centers
  • Potable water systems
  • Medical facilities
  • Ventilation systems
  • Common areas

These areas are evaluated and scored on a 100-point scale. Any inspection scoring less than 86 is considered a failure. Major violations, such as failure to properly dispose of sewage or failure to chlorinate drinking water, must be corrected immediately; but “minor” violations only require a re-inspection in a reasonable amount of time. They do not require the ship to be removed from service.

MarketWatch reported an example of one ship that received a 100% score even though it was cited for “storing boxes of fruit juice near raw egg shells and for one crew member working while showing symptoms of gastroenteritis.” This is a big problem.

Health Issue: Outbreaks

Recent disease outbreaks on cruise lines have made the mainstream news. But not all of the facts are reaching consumers via major media. The CDC reported that 11 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses occurred aboard ships in 2017, while 13 outbreaks were reported in 2016. But that doesn’t give the whole story. In just one outbreak on Royal Caribbean in 2017, more than 300 passengers were sickened by a stomach bug that caused vomiting and diarrhea.

Many of these illnesses are traced back to improperly cleaned prep areas, utensils, cookware, and dishes—or cruise foodworkers who work while ill themselves. In addition, improper food storage, which results in cross-contamination, was found to be at fault in some cases.

People are packed in close proximity on a cruise ship, which allows germs to spread more quickly than they might in other conditions. It’s a known risk, so cruise crewmembers and managers must be vigilant in keeping things sanitary.

Who Has Ultimate Responsibility for Cruise Safety?

To some extent, you can keep yourself from getting sick on a cruise. The number one precaution to take is simply to wash your hands thoroughly and often. Also, if you see someone who is ill, leave the area as quickly as possible to avoid contamination. And finally, drink plenty of water. It is very easy to become dehydrated in the beautiful sunny weather. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated will ensure that your immune system is fully functioning to fight off any bug that might be going around.

But the main responsibility for your safety at sea lies with the cruise ship company. If the company or its crewmembers were negligent in any way while performing their duties, and that negligence led to your injury, you have a legal claim against them. For example, if you slip on an outdoor deck and fall, breaking your hip, you probably wouldn’t have a claim. Why? Because the sea is right there, and it gets things wet. It’s unreasonable to expect the cruise staff to keep outdoor decks dry all the time. However, if you slip and fall inside a dining area indoors, which didn’t have a “wet floor” sign, you have a much better claim, because it’s reasonable to expect the crew to keep indoor walkways dry for guests. The same goes for food storage and preparation.

If you have been injured or became ill during a recent cruise and would like professional guidance regarding your legal rights, contact our Seattle cruise accident attorneys at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., for a free consultation. A call to (888) 228-3860 can answer all of your questions about your ability to receive compensation for your illness or injury.

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