Magic Becomes Mayhem on Ebola Cruise

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Ebola virusJust last week, we evaluated whether cruise passengers faced the risk of contracting Ebola while on a cruise ship. While it seemed that the risk wasn’t high, we wondered if the cruise lines had a protocol if this were to happen. Or better yet, did they have a protocol to prevent something like this from happening in the first place.  

Now, it is clear that one passenger on board the Carnival Magic may have been in contact with the disease. It was reported that the cruise line offered only $200 to each passenger and a 50% discount in future cruises in compensation to passengers who found themselves on this Ebola-cruise.

For passengers who bought into a week of rest, relaxation, and sunshine, but ended up cowering in fear in their cabins, this just doesn’t seem right.  It was reported that the cruise line also failed to keep the channels of communication open when it came to keeping passengers informed, raising red flags about how cruise lines may handle similar situations in the future. The National Post reported on the debacle, explaining that even when the captain initially publicized the quarantine, he failed to mention that it had anything to do with Ebola.

The captain eventually confirmed that a passenger who worked at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas may have handled samples acquired from Thomas Eric Duncan, the patient who died of Ebola just four days before the ship set sail.

The potentially infected lab worker and her husband remained voluntarily quarantined on the ship. The fact that the woman and husband submitted to voluntary quarantine also raises questions about why government authorities have not set out more stringent guidelines for how cruise lines should handle cases where passengers may be infected with deadly contagious diseases.

Tests were performed on the quarantined passengers, and fortunately, the tests came back negative. Yet, prior to the release of the results, passengers were in a state of shock and panic.

People were crying and scared. It was reported that one passenger saw workers wearing masks, cleaning down the hallways. As more passengers attempted to call home or use the internet, communications channels became overwhelmed and eventually failed.

It seems clear that many organizations dropped the ball when it came to passenger safety and comfort. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only required that the affected woman check her temperature. Had she been asked to stay home, this whole cruise disaster could have been avoided. The woman further decided to self-report to the captain that her health might be compromised. Not every passenger would do the same.

Furthermore, the Belize government refused to admit the woman into the country to allow her to be transported to the U.S. Should another case like this occur and a passenger happen to be ill onboard a cruise, one wonders whether the cruise lines are equipped with the proper medical facilities to treat hundreds or even thousands of critically ill passengers. What policies or procedures are in place?

After the scare onboard the Carnival Magic, the cruise industry has finally decided to include  questions regarding Ebola on their health questionnaire. Anyone who had physical contact with an Ebola patient will now be denied the ability to board a ship.

Unfortunately, if Ebola becomes more serious and widespread, cases like this may become more frequent. Cruise lines will need to find ways to ensure that passengers are safe. At least, for now, cruise passengers and their families have the ability to turn to a maritime lawyer if they contract Ebola on a cruise ship.