Cruise Ships Seaworthiness

What makes a cruise ship seaworthy? Is a cruise ships seaworthiness linked to tonnage? The cruise ships price tag? The brand? How about how many passengers it carries each year? According to Bernstein & Marynoff, LLC based in Miami Florida, the cruise capital of the world, “a seaworthy vessel must provide its crew a safe place to work and live, and be equipped with appropriate safety gear and equipment, safe recreation facilities, and a competent crew. Seaworthiness is a strict liability warranty that imposes an absolute duty on vessel owners to provide a vessel and related equipment that is ‘reasonably fit for their intended use.'” Whether the owner, cruise line or otherwise knew of the unseaworthy condition is irrelevant to any liability. The law firm, which specializes in watercraft injuries, motorcycle accidents, and more goes on to state that, “unlike the Jones Act claims against the seaman’s employer, an unseaworthiness claim is made against the vessel’s owner. In many cases those two will be the same. If any type of injury is caused by an unsafe condition on the vessel, there may be a seaworthiness claim against the vessel owner.”

While cruise ships seaworthiness is of the utmost importance or else the ship could never set sail, there are numerous threats that are more common than mechanical issues, unsafe recreation facilities, and lack of safety gear. Terrorism is one such threat, other passengers and their behavior (just like with any city with thousands of people packed in together), and the biggest threat of them all – norovirus. First, the U.S. and the United Nations have strict maritime security laws in place to help protect onboard guests. In 2004, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) — part of the U.N. — introduced the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS). During this time, the U.S. also created the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA).

These regulations established international security regulations that require all ships, port facilities and governments to have formal security plans, screening measures, access control, waterside security, and communications between ships and ports. According to the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL). As reported in a USA Today report, “security officers must inspect all passengers and their luggage, and all crew must undergo a U.S. State Department background check. Once a cruise has begun, anyone entering or leaving the ship must pass through a security screening. The ship must present a manifest of everyone onboard to the Coast Guard 96 hours before arriving at a U.S. port, and that list must be cleared before the ship can dock.” In addition, “the ICCL security committee works closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation, Customs and Border Protection, Office of Naval Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI to discuss security issues and reinforce the safety of all passengers at sea. These measures and others protect vacationers as much as is possible from terrorist attacks in port or on the high seas.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 23 million Americans contract the norovirus each year. With so many reports of norovirus on cruise ships, as recent at November 2007, more and more potential cruise passengers are seeking information and advice about this virus that seems to affect cruise ships so often. The most recent outbreak occurred on a seven-day Hawaiian Islands cruise aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of Hawaii in November 2007. More than 200 passengers were infected with the norovirus out of the 2,500 passengers on board. So what caused this outbreak and so many others? And, what exactly is norovirus?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) norovirus, originally called Norwalk-Like Virus (NLV), is the most common cause of non-bacterial gastrointestinal infections such as the stomach flu or gastroenteritis, in the U.S. Noroviruses are sometimes called caliciviruses or “small round structured viruses.” They are not affected by treatment with antibiotics and they cannot grow outside a person’s body. Symptoms of norovirus typically occur within 24-48 hours after ingestion of the virus but they can appear as early as 12 hours after exposure.

The CDC states that norovirus is found in the stool or vomit of infected people. It can be spread by eating or drinking liquids that are contaminated with the norovirus; touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, and then placing their hand in their mouth; or having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms. For instance, when caring for someone with illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill. Infected persons will feel ill and vomit several times a day – children vomit much, much more, but they (and all others) tend to get better within 1-2 days, especially if fluids are continuously being replaced by drinking juice or water. This means that the virus is not fatal, just extremely unpleasant, uncomfortable, and inconvenient. Other symptoms may include diarrhea, stomach cramping, low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, nausea, and tiredness.

There are several reasons norovirus on cruise ships is so common: close living quarters may increase the amount of group contact or new passenger arrivals may bring the virus to other passengers and crew. It can also occur through unsanitary practices by staff — meaning not washing their hands before preparing food.

Norovirus on ships, and other places where it is common such as nursing homes, restaurants, and catered events, can be prevented in several ways:

·Frequently washing hands, especially after bathroom visits, changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.
·Carefully washing fruits and vegetables, and steaming seafood such as oysters before eating them.
·Thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.
·The immediate removal and washing of clothing or linens that may be contaminated with the norovirus after an episode of illness, using hot water and soap.
·By flushing or discarding any vomit and/or waste in the commode, and making sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.

For more information about norovirus on cruise ships, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov.

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