This year, our maritime lawyers have seen an elevated number of Norovirus incidents. Just last month, passengers aboard Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas became ill with the disease. However, over the past 10 months, hundreds of more who have sailed aboard the Voyager of the Seas have reportedly been stricken with the highly contagious Norovirus. Also known as the stomach flu, Norovirus is transmitted either by person-to-person contact or through contaminated food. The infection spreads extremely quickly, making cruise ships an unfortunately ideal environment for the disease to contaminate food and infect those onboard. Any confined area where there are multiple people can lead the virus to quickly spread.
There is no treatment for Norovirus, but the disease is usually transient, causing sickness and discomfort, but not usually long term complications. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, which last a few days. However, if the victim is not well-hydrated, complications can arise. Whenever there is a Norovirus outbreak onboard a cruise ship, the vessel’s medical staff should inform everyone onboard and advise passengers and crewmembers to wash their hands continually. Some cruise lines take added precautions when the virus is discovered onboard, providing antibacterial sanitizers at various areas on ships as well as monitoring buffet areas by serving passengers individually. However, even despite the best of efforts, the virus can still be transmitted.
Recently, several passengers aboard a River Rhine cruise ship have fallen ill with Norovirus Newspapers in Germany have reported that around 70 passengers have suffered “heavily illness” on a cruise ship over the weekend. The vessel, Dutch river ship MS Bellriva, had been on the river around midnight when nearly 70 passengers began complaining of symptoms linked to Norovirus, including “agonizing nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.”
The cruise ship stopped in the district of Wiesbaden Biebrich on the Rhine River and some of the more elderly passengers who became infected were taken off the ship and transported to nearby hospitals in Wiesbaden for treatment. While 183 other people have been quarantined in a separate area onboard, including crewmembers. However, it is likely that the quarantine will not have as much of an effect because the vessel only has three decks, making the spread of the virus almost inevitable.
While docked, 50 members of local fire rescue departments helped treat the ill passengers. According to videos taken of the scene, medical responders were seen wearing white hazmat suits to prevent being contaminated themselves.
Although Norovirus is a common threat to cruise passengers, if a vessel’s operators are found to have failed in taking the necessary procedures to contain the virus and treat those who have fallen ill, they may be found liable for any complications those infected might suffer. It is important for cruise ships to notify passengers and crewmembers when there is an outbreak onboard and provide adequate care for those who are ill. If a passenger or crewmember’s symptoms escalate due to the cruise line’s negligence, they may be entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering.