There has been a tremendous amount of bad press for the cruise ship industry recently. Ships have exposed passengers to danger by traveling through hurricane-level seas on the Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas, and on the Celebrity Infinity with outbreaks of norovirus.
There can be no doubt that cruise ship companies make every attempt to provide pleasant cruises for its passenger-customers. Indeed there are many great features and amenities to a cruise for the traveler. For example, here is a list of those features in a review of the Celebrity Silhouette. Regardless of the intent for customer comfort and safety, cruises as vacation destinations throughout the world are also a common setting for exposure to communicable diseases such as legionella, norovirus, and other serious illnesses.
With the entrance of the largest ship to the vacation cruising fleet, the Harmony of the Seas, we should consider the risks of the outbreaks of communicable diseases while aboard cruise ships.
Swimming Pools & Hot Tubs on Cruise Ships
A passenger on a certain cruise ship recently explained that he and his family are regulars on cruise ships, and they routinely take cruises more that once or twice a year. Unfortunately there was an exposure to legionella on a most recent cruise. It appears that while most ships drain their pool and hot tub between ports, and commonly use salt water in the pools, this ship used a chlorine-based pool and did not drain and clean the pool between ports. While the CDC has outlined safety regulations for cruise ship swimming pools, if a cruise ship fails to drain the and test the pools during the voyage, it is certain to raise the potential of an exposure to legionnaires disease.
In fact, a 1994 Outbreak of Legionnaires Disease aboard the Celebrity Cruise Ship Horizon resulted in a multi-million dollar award in damages. The case was retried, resulting in a reduced award in the tens of millions of dollars. In the case, at least 16 persons who had sailed on nine separate week-long cruises were subsequently found to have Legionnaires’ disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. One of the passengers later died. Essef Corp., (now Pentair), provided a defective filter in the ship’s hot-tub system, which the CDC linked to the outbreak. The outbreak of Legionnaires ultimately resulted in a number of personal injury suits and a class action suit by passengers against Celebrity.
Center for Disease Controls Reports and Recommendations
A review of the Center for Disease Controls website includes a database of reports of norovirus and legionnaires cases per year.
More than 20%–25% of all Legionnaires’ disease reported to CDC is travel-associated. Clusters of Legionnaires’ disease associated with hotel or cruise ship travel are difficult to identify, because travelers often disperse from the source of infection before symptoms begin. In evaluating cruise travelers for Legionnaires’ disease, clinicians should do the following:
» Obtain a thorough travel history of all destinations from 10 days before symptom onset (to assist in the identification of potential source of exposure)
» Collect urine for antigen testing
» Collect respiratory secretions for culture, which is essential for identifying the pathogen
» Inform CDC of any travel-associated Legionnaires’ disease cases by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawsuits Involving Cruise Ship
While most cruise ship cases will involve the general maritime law, one recent trend in cruise ship litigation involves restricted time limits to file a claim and lawsuit, and the enforcement of choice of court sections called “forum selection clauses” that exist in most cruise contracts (for example, see the conditions of passage for MSC Cruises that include cruise ships like the MSC Divina).
This “small print” section when booking passage is only discovered after making a claim, and frequently requires the customer to file in South Florida Federal Courts. Each cruise company is different, and if a claim is made or a suit is to be filed, it should be determined early which court is the proper choice under the maritime law, as well a review of the written agreement made by the customer with the cruise company.