A Royal Caribbean International cruise ship, Explorer of the Seas, implemented “a lock down” on all food after nearly ten percent of its passengers and 22 crew members had become ill with gastrointestinal symptoms. According to a tweet from one of the sick passengers, the ship’s employees put the lock down in place, and were “constantly cleaning everything.”
The passenger, who has been identified as Arnee Dodd from Connecticut, tweeted that she was one of the victims of what is thought to be norovirus and that she had been “quarantined” with other people who were also sick. She also reported the food “lock down” and how employees were immediately looking to sanitize the ship.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is due to conduct an “epidemiologic investigation” and environmental health assessment starting today. The ship is currently docked in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. The cause of the outbreak is still listed as “unknown,” and they will be collecting stool specimens from sick passengers and crew that will be sent to the CDC laboratory for testing. In the meantime, the CDC confirms that staff on board the Royal Caribbean International cruise ship have increased their cleaning and disinfection procedures, and have been reporting gastrointestinal illness cases daily to the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP). Additional crew has been organized to meet and join the ship to help intensify “sanitation procedures” and also assist with sick passengers.
This afternoon a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean International, Janet Diaz, said that the cruise ship had not stopped in Haiti at the company’s beach destination on Saturday as scheduled. Instead it had sailed on to San Juan in Puerto Rico where “extensive sanitizing” was carried out. This was a difficult decision, but it was made in the interests of passengers, to try to prevent any more people getting sick, she said.
Referring to sanitation issues, she said “special cleaning products” that were designed to destroy norovirus had been used in Puerto Rico, and that they would continue to be used throughout this voyage. There was no mention that staff on board had put a lock down on food supplies.
Diarrhea and vomiting are typical Norovirus symptoms, which is what all the sick passengers and crew have reported. According to Janet Diaz they have been treated with medication that is available over the counter and have responded well to it. While those who are sick will not be permitted to leave the ship, the tourism commissioner of the US Virgin Islands, Beverly Nicholson-Doty said they would welcome all ships’ passengers who had been cleared to disembark.
Explorer of the Seas was on a ten-day voyage from Cape Liberty in New Jersey, to St. Maarten in the Caribbean when passengers began to complain of vomiting and diarrhea. Reports say that the virus spread like wildfire, and that there was little staff could do except attend to passengers and increase sanitation measures.
Royal Caribbean International issued a formal apology for the disruption caused by the outbreak on board the cruise ship. Sanitation strategy was not mentioned in the statement, nor was the lock down passengers say was put down on food.
By Penny Swift