Just days after our maritime law firm reported on a severe Norovirus epidemic that spread onboard the Fred Olsen-operated Black Watch cruise ship, now, another batch of travelers has come down with the infamous stomach bug, leading us to wonder if the company ever did anything in the first place to properly sanitize the ship and protect future passengers from harm.
According to reports on the incident, 122 Black Watch passengers have come down with Norovirus, with symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Norovirus is extremely contagious and is often referred to as the “cruise ship bug” because of the high rate of occurrence in the cruise industry. Cruise lines, after all, are basically floating hotels. There is nowhere to go or escape from a stomach bug outbreak and because of the confined quarters, sick passengers (or crew members) can easily spread the virus to other unsuspecting victims.
The sick Black Watch passengers were on a 12-night World Heritage itinerary which left from the vessel’s homeport in Rosyth on September 20 and returned yesterday. According to a Fred Olsen spokeswoman, out of 737 guests that were onboard, 122 got sick with a “gastroenteritis-type illness,” which we know by now to be the one and only Norovirus.
Less than two weeks ago, 130 Black Watch cruise passengers came down with Norovirus. Though the company claims a special sanitation crew came in to clean the ship, clearly, they didn’t do a very good job if 122 more passengers got sick on the following itinerary.
In my opinion one of the problems with preventing further outbreaks is that virtually the same crew is on the future cruises. If a crewmember is infected but does not show symptoms then the infection is carried by the infected crewmember to future cruises. This is just a personal theory that should be checked out by the cruise lines.
Though symptoms come and go fairly quickly, Norovirus victims must make sure to stay well hydrated to avoid complications with their illness. Many children and elderly cruise passengers who have contracted Norovirus have required hospitalization, and in some cases, the illness proved fatal. Yet, for Fred Olsen, the epidemic is merely “unfortunate.”
The spokeswoman went as far as to place blame on the cruise terminal for the contraction of the illness and on guests, who the cruise line has “no ability to segregate” in order to keep healthy passengers away from sick ones during the disembarkation and embarkation process.
The Black Watch has been “sanitized” again and was cleared to sail to Dover, where it will begin its next itinerary. Given that the cruise will be departing from a new port of call, if any new cases of Norovirus arise, it will be safe to say that the vessel was not sanitized as thoroughly as the cruise company might claim.
In the meantime, the passengers booked on the next Black Watch cruise have been issued letters by the company explaining the epidemic and what symptoms to look for.
Just like with the previous Norovirus outbreak, Fred Olsen made a statement claiming the “health, safety and well-being” of all cruise guests and crew members is of the highest priority and claim their illness prevention policies are “amongst the best” in the cruise industry.
Hmm, seems to our maritime lawyers that with back-to-back Norovirus outbreaks, the cruise line’s ability to prevent the spread of an illness is relatively subpar. If the company did in fact take the health and safety of passengers into consideration, they would have worked at containing the situation more successfully and informing passengers who exhibit Norovirus symptoms to seek treatment onboard the ship’s medical quarters immediately, not to mention quarantine the sick passengers.
Furthermore, the cruise company was also to blame for another Norovirus outbreak in June onboard the Boudicca ship, which saw 96 travelers fall sick with the stomach virus. Several passengers are in the process of filing a lawsuit against Fred Olsen, so it’s only natural that the company would do its best to prevent a similar incident on another ship.
Alas, the company failed to do so, and now, the tally of sick passengers has increased once more. Will cruise lines ever learn how to prioritize passenger health and safety? That question, sadly, continues to remain a mystery.