Our cruise ship lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. discussed the Norovirus outbreak on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas last week in detail, but what we haven’t talked about is what it means for the cruise line itself. Though Royal stated it will be compensating all passengers who were on the itinerary, we can’t help but wonder what an outbreak of this magnitude will do to the industry’s image.
Maritime safety – or the lack thereof – has been a growing issue for all cruise lines within the industry lately. In just the first few weeks of the year, six people have already been involved in overboard accidents, leading maritime authorities to wonder if the cruise industry is ever going to take safety seriously. But the real scrutiny began two years ago, when the Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Giglio, Italy. The crash, the subsequent chaotic evacuation, and the realization that the U.S. government or even cruise lines themselves have little control over the actions of a captain or crew, brought to light the fact that safety is a huge issue that needs to be addressed for all cruise lines. And though safety is primarily focused on keeping passengers safe from physical harm, part of ensuring the safety of passengers (and crew members) onboard any given ship is the line’s ability to maintain a sanitary environment.
We are in the year 2014, an age where there should be truly no excuse for a massive viral outbreak onboard a ship. Yes, we recognize that people can get sick and bring the virus onboard the cruise without even realizing this, but a ship’s crew has a duty to contain an outbreak as quickly as possible. The report that over 600 people became sick with Norovirus onboard the Explorer of the Seas is unbelievable.
While the virus, which causes gastrointestinal symptoms and vomiting from 1 to 3 days, does spread very quickly, a cruise ship that can hold over 3,000 passengers should be better equipped to handle a situation like this. This outbreak has officially gone down as the worst Norovirus outbreak in cruise ship history. It was reported that Royal quarantined ill passengers to their rooms and offered a 50 percent refund on their cruise tickets, 50 percent off a future cruise, and reimbursement for airline fees and hotel costs. While Norovirus symptoms may dissipate after a few days, the outbreak should be taken seriously.
Spending a cruise vacation with Norovirus isn’t fun, especially when you are confined to a cabin for days. Not every passenger is aware of the strict protocols the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires of the cruise industry, which means that the majority of travelers will board their ship, embark on their vacation and never know what’s really going on.
While the source of the outbreak is not yet clear, it is important for sick crewmembers to be confined to their quarters as well, in order to prevent passengers from getting ill.
A cruise line’s ability to sanitize a vessel and keep it sanitized plays a very significant role in the likelihood a virus will be spread or contained.
It was reported that Royal Caribbean responded immediately to the problem and offered reimbursement for everyone onboard, even those that weren’t affected by the outbreak.
Cruise goers tend to recognize that accidents do happen, as well as illnesses, but it appears as though the public’s main concern is how the cruise line reacts in the event of an emergency. Royal responded right away, and according to passengers who were onboard the Norovirus-ridden ship, crew members did a good job at ensuring everyone was well taken care of.
All in all, we are glad to hear that Royal recognized the problem, fixed it and considered passenger needs throughout the entire time the outbreak was spreading.