Cruise ship safety, contagious diseases, and the Norovirus

Maritime Articles

In the event of an injury that you contact a maritime lawyer. In early 2014, an extremely contagious virus spread among the crew and guests of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. Those infected with the virus became violently ill with diarrhea, vomiting, and other symptoms. So devastating was the onset of the virus that the ship had to return to its port of origin, carrying over 600 ill passengers and crew members.

Cruise ship safety, contagious diseases, and the Norovirus.Following this disaster, experts theorized that the outbreak may have been caused by the norovirus. This virus is known for its quick spread and disgusting symptoms, which include intestinal inflammation, fever, diarrhea, cramping, and violent vomiting. Since the norovirus cannot be killed by standard household cleaning fluids, hand gels, or disinfectants, powerful chemicals are necessary to eradicate the virus once it has a foothold. The virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 12 hours, and it lasts nearly two weeks on soft fabric surfaces. Untreated standing water can harbor the norovirus for many months. As if its resilience was not enough, the norovirus is incredibly contagious. A tiny drop of vomit from one sick individual can infect over 100,000 people.

Royal Caribbean was not the only cruise line recently affected by an unsavory incident. One Carnival cruise ship suffered electrical issues, resulting in loss of power to the ship. Passengers and crew struggled with a lack of air conditioning and plumbing, leading to illness and deplorable conditions on board.

A credible cruise line should take immediate steps to address a major viral outbreak or power failure such as those reported in these two cruise ship incidents. The company should offer compensation to crew and passengers alike, to help alleviate some of the trauma from the voyage. Royal Caribbean, for instance, offered their passengers a refund of half their cruise cost, along with a credit of 50% off a future cruise. In addition, they conducted multiple barrier sanitizations of the ship, attempting to kill off any remaining vestiges of the virus.

Unfortunately, no one can tell for certain whether the virus originated on the ship as a result of unsanitary practices. In fact, it is far more likely that a passenger or crew member brought it aboard and infected others. The norovirus infects about 20 million Americans every year.  Therefore, it is sufficiently widespread for such an infection scenario to be possible.

To keep cruise ship incidents like this from occurring, crew members, passengers, and cruise companies must take a variety of precautions. Anyone with symptoms of stomach illness, whether they are paying customers or part of the crew, should refrain from boarding the ship. If the illness starts while the cruise is in progress, the affected individual should go to a medical center immediately. Medical professionals who suspect a contagious virus should recommend a limited quarantine for the sick person to prevent the illness from spreading to others.

Only through regular cleaning, routine sanitization, and careful inspection can a cruise company hope to minimize the impact of infection and sickness aboard its ships. The investment in cleanliness is worthwhile because it can save a company millions of dollars in customer fares.

If a cruise company upholds the proper standards of cleanliness and safety and passes all inspections by the Center for Disease Control, the company is most likely not at fault for the spread of a virus such as the norovirus. In fact, lawyers who process claims for personal injuries do not always take on claims related to norovirus outbreaks, since it is difficult to prove that the cruise line did anything to facilitate the problem. Other types of personal injuries claims against cruise lines are far more likely to succeed in court.

When stories of virus outbreaks on cruise ships surface, customers start to wonder if the luxury of the trip is worth the risk. They begin searching for cruise lines with the lowest recorded number of outbreaks. For instance, a cruise company like Royal Caribbean is actually far more appealing than the Princess Cruises line. From 2011-2013, nine different Princess Cruises ships endured norovirus outbreaks, compared to the Royal Caribbean’s four outbreaks.

Another factor that prospective crew members or passengers can look at is the number of inspections that a company’s ships have passed or failed. Some cruise lines have a reputation for passing a significant percentage of their inspections with a perfect score. Working for these companies or booking a cruise with them does not eliminate the possibility of a viral outbreak, but it can lessen the potential risk. A few of the top cruise lines known for their cleanliness are Costa, Norwegian, Oceania, and Disney. In contrast, stand ships like the Amadea of Phoenix Reissen cruises. This particular vessel failed its inspection miserably. The report revealed dirt, bugs, clogged drains, and multiple other issues.

Before you go to work on a specific cruise ship or book a cruise with a particular line, find out that cruise line’s record for inspections. Do a little digging to uncover any personal injuries that others have suffered aboard a cruise company’s ships. In addition, check out the results of sanitation inspections for some of the company’s vessels. Remember that a cruise company should keep its ships well supplied with state-of-the-art water filtration and disinfection systems. The cruise line must also have adequate medical centers that document every illness. In the galley and dining areas, cleanliness is paramount. The entire food preparation and food service area should be pristine, with all the high-quality equipment necessary to keep surfaces clean and to preserve food from contamination.

Cruise ship incidents such as the Royal Caribbean outbreak may make customers think twice about booking a cruise. In addition, these situations often cause concern among crew members who work aboard cruise vessels. Repeated personal injuries and illnesses aboard an employer’s cruise ship should inspire crew members to defend their right to a safe, sanitary workplace. If you are concerned about the cruise ship environment in which you work or relax, consult with a reputable maritime injury lawyer to see what legal recourse you may have.


Royal Caribbean Cruises Mistreats Elderly Passengers

Maritime Articles

Royal Caribbean finds itself in a very uncomfortable position and is receiving a lot of negative publicity in the headlines news worldwide.  Most people do not think lightening can strike in the same spot twice, but sadly for an elderly couple, it did.  Their sad story has caught the attention of the American Embassy in Turkey and U.S. Senators.

Jill and Dodge Melkonian, 89, were on a cruise ship last April when a fire ignited. To compensate them for their troubles, Royal Caribbean offered them a full refund and a free trip, which they took a few months later.

accident aboard the cruise shipJill and Dodge are not novice travelers. They have visited nearly 200 countries and have been on more than 30 cruises.  While aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Azamara Journey (the trip offered to them as a consolation for the previous cruise that resulted in a fire), Dodge Melkonian fell and broke his hip. “I had just gotten to sleep, and I heard him scream and my husband takes a lot of pain — he doesn’t even use a needle for dental work — so I knew he was in trouble,” recalled Jill Melkonian.

Dodge was treated promptly for his accident aboard the cruise ship.  However, his injury was too serious and he required more specialized medical care.  The Melkonians had bought medical traveler’s insurance through Royal Caribbean and were near a small town, Bartin, on the coast of Turkey.  Dodge and Jill were taken to the local hospital there, but Jill insists they were not as lucky as they thought. 

Jill said “No one spoke English, the conditions were very poor and I wasn’t even able to explain in the hospital that he needed something for his pain.” Jill also stated that, “The hospital was so dirty that I was worried about infections, and because of strict cultural customs, no women were allowed inside.”

As she watched her spouse in increasing pain in a foreign country, Jill felt despondent.  She called her travel agency, Elite Travel.  "Nobody was there physically with them from Royal Caribbean. They basically left them, and that was it,” said Tammy Levent, owner of Elite Travel. 

A local tour guide by the name of Okan Kutlu was called and essentially rescued Dodge Melkonian and his wife Jill. He donated his very own blood and coordinated a transfer for Dodge to a much larger hospital in Istanbul nearly six hours away.

Royal Caribbean was never reached for an interview regarding the Melkonians but did release a statement:
"We helped arrange transportation via ambulance to the closest area hospital. Once ashore, we worked closely with the travel medical insurance company because they have the expertise to deal with local authorities and medical facilities. … One of our care team specialists is still in contact with them today."

Many disagree that this was enough including Sen. Bill Nelson, Democrat for Florida, "What we’ve communicated to the cruise line is that we expect you to make them financially whole," he said. "It is not right to treat an elderly couple like this."

Jill says this will not keep them from cruising in the future but they will be more knowledgeable about their medical travel insurance coverage and where it comes from. 

CBS reported on this case and News travel editor Peter Greenberg explained, "In this particular case, they bought the medical insurance from the cruise company — Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines — and they do provide basic care, and if you look at what happened here, they performed to the letter of the language in that particular policy. They stabilized the patient; they got him off the ship and took him to the nearest medical facility. That was not enough, and that is the key issue here.  Should you buy the medical insurance from the cruise company? I advise that you do not.  You want to go to a third-party medical insurance company that does not have the same language in its policy as the cruise lines have in theirs."

His advice to travelers like the Malkonians is to purchase a medical travel insurance plan from a third-party and through a travel agent. 

What To Expect When Dining On A Cruise Ship

Maritime Articles

cruise ship foodWhen you choose a cruise vacation, meals are usually included in the package. However, there are certain things travelers should be aware of if they want to enjoy their dining experience with as little hassle and bill shock as much as possible.

All cruise lines (except Norwegian Cruise Lines) offer “traditional dining”, which means you are assigned to dine at a specific time at a specific table with other passengers in the main dining room. You can request early or late seating in advance, though there is no guarantee that it will be granted. In this kind of dining format, you and your fellow traveler are required to arrive at the same time, at the same table, and eat with the same passengers for the duration of the cruise. This can be ideal for meeting new people, and for the wait staff to get to know you and your preferences.

But for others who would like to choose the time they eat and who they dine with, “traditional dining” can be a drawback. Fortunately, more cruise ships are offering open seating dining. Basically, you can walk in during a specified block of time (usually within a 4 hour period) and can be seated with just you and your companion or be seated with other passengers depending on availability. The same items offered in traditional dining should also be available for open seating dining.

Another important thing to consider is the cruise ship’s casual dining and specialty dining options. If you are worn out from participating in offshore excursions all day, it’s possible that you will be too tired even for the late dining time in the main dining room. Make sure that the cruise offers casual dining choices, just in case you are hungry later in the night. On the other hand, if you want something that is more upscale and special than what is offered in the main dining venue, it’s a good idea to ask about other available options. Usually, these specialty venues may focus on French cuisine, steaks and seafood, Italian food, and much more. Reservations are usually required, and make sure that you pack the proper attire if you are planning on dining at these establishments.

Again, it is important to stress that any kind of alternative dining—whether casual or specialty—may incur additional fees. Just make sure to clarify with the customer service representative as to what is actually included in your package, so you can budget properly for any extras.

Should you choose buffet dining, there are many important health considerations you should remember. Of course, cruise ships do what they can to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. But with so many passengers sharing the same water supply and the large variance in the personal hygiene of fellow travelers, it may be best for travelers with sensitive stomachs to avoid buffet service as much as possible.

It’s easy to assume that drinking will always come along with dining—but the fine print of your cruise package may say otherwise. This is where many cruise vacationers experience bill shock the most, because they did not know about the drink packages on offer. Many travelers are unprepared for the “anything goes” atmosphere of a cruise ship—there is no “last call” and gambling is legal once the ship is in international waters. In this environment, it’s easy to spend far more money that you initially budgeted for. While the decision to gamble is completely up to the passenger, drinking (whether it’s soda or alcohol) won’t have to cost an arm and a leg if a drink package is purchased beforehand.

In all, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy your cruise vacation and stay within your planned budget. Like with any endeavor, it is always a good idea to read the fine print before you commit. As with any kind of vacation, it’s easy to stray from your budget if you’re not careful. But as long as you are aware of your options, it should not be too hard to enjoy yourself without breaking the bank.