The Source for Maritime Legal Information

Cruise Ships and Norovirus

Cruise Norovirus.jpgThere has been much in the news lately about Norovirus outbreaks aboard cruise ships. The most noteworthy is the outbreak that occurred on the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas where nearly 700 people were stricken by Norovirus. Princess Cruise Lines and NCL also had Norovirus outbreaks aboard their ships already this year. A casual observer may ask, why Norovirus and cruise ships go hand-in-hand? The answer is simple. Gastrointestional viruses are highly contagious. Cruise ships are floating cities where thousands of people touch common objects such as handrails, elevator buttons, door handles and the like. Infected people leave the virus on those surfaces and non-infected passengers touch the infected surfaces and the virus passes. Another reason why Norovirus flourishes on cruise ships is by the way cruise lines utilize their staff. A person who had a case of Norovirus can transmit the bug to others for two weeks or more after the symptoms subside. As a cruise injury attorney, I have read thousands of crew medical files. From my experience, cruise lines have an interest to keep their staff working and to return them back to duty as soon as possible so they could crew these massive floating hotels. The statistics from the CDC always report many more passengers as being infected than crewmembers. In the case of the Explorer of the Seas outbreak 634 (20.6%) passengers reported having the virus was only 55 (4.7%) crewmember reported symptoms. NCL’s Norwegian Star outbreak is similar. In that case, ill passengers totaled 130 (5.61%) as opposed to 12 (1.15%) crewmembers. Likewise, Princess Cruise Lines’ Caribbean Princess outbreak had 181 (5.8%) reported ill whereas the crew total was only 11 (0.96%). This means the cruise lines are most likely sending crewmembers back to work even though they still carry and could transmit the virus to others. These same crewmembers that have been found “fit for duty” by the ship doctors are making the passengers’ beds, cooking and serving food for the buffets as well as making the drinks at the ship’s bars. In other words, the cruise lines could be playing a large role in causing these outbreaks. Given cruise lines are money driven and the only way they make money is constantly operating their ship sick crew and all, I do not think we have heard the last of Norovirus outbreak on cruise ships.