2005-09-01

Cruises are Health Hazards

Shocking health hazards on board cruise ships are exposed by consumer watchdogs today. A report -- 'Behind the Scenes in the Cruise Ship Galleys' -- published by 'Which?', reveals poor hygiene and numerous health hazards following random checks on 14 British cruise ships docking at UK ports. Inspectors found veal nearly a year out of date, cockroaches and swarms of flies in food larders. 'Which?' obtained the findings under new Freedom Of Information rules -- the only way to see the reports of UK port authority inspectors. They are worrying because cruise ships have been at the centre of a number of health alerts. In recent years, thousands of passengers have fallen ill as a result of a virulent stomach virus that liners seem unable to eradicate. Many of the outbreaks have been caused by the 'Norovirus' -- a gastrointestinal bug that causes fever, vomiting and diarrhoea for up to 48 hours. 'Which?' is calling for Britain to follow the USA by publishing all cruise ship hygiene reports and tips on how to avoid being affected. Ms.Liz Edwards, head of news at 'Which?', said:
'We quite often read in "The Press" about outbreaks of stomach bugs among passengers on cruise ships. 'We long thought it was unfair that if passengers were booking a cruise which had docked in the USA, they could look at the site for the inspection report. But if it had not docked in the 'States, you could not get information on conditions. 'We decided to use "The Freedom of Information Act" to check on around 14 ships. 'A member of the public would have to go through the request process for themselves, perhaps making five requests, depending on what holiday brochures they were looking at. 'We would like to see reports on cruise ships carried out by inspectors from "The Ports Health Authority" in the UK made freely available to passengers in this country.'
A spokesman for the Information Commissioner said yesterday 2005-08-31 that a request for a ports inspection report would take around 20 days and that charges for such requests started at 10_GBP, but may cost more if each individual report was held separately. The disturbing findings of health risks coincide with an increasing number of Britons choosing cruises for their holidays; over 1.1_million cruise bookings were made last year 2004. The report states that stomach bugs were not unusual on cruises, and that last year 2004 there were at least 36 outbreaks reported internationally. Bugs spread easily among passengers living in close-quarters, which is why hygiene is paramount and ships are inspected. In 2005-04, just before its maiden voyage, 'The Thomson Celebration' at Southampton was inspected by hygiene inspectors who expressed 'little confidence' in the ship's overall food-safety controls. The ship hit the headlines the following month(2005-05) after a plumbing disaster meant that 230 toilets would not flush. On 'The Caronia', a former 'Cunard' ship sold to 'Saga' and renamed 'Saga Ruby', inspectors visiting in 2004-07 discovered 'cockroach activity' had been logged by staff. 'Which?' says that one of the most shocking findings in its random selection of reports was the 'P&O' Cruises' 200_million_GBP liner 'Aurora'. In 2004-05, inspectors found veal thawing that was ten months out of date along with some cheese and a frozen goose of uncertain vintage. 'Which?' says that when UK inspectors checked 'Aurora's' 170_million_GBP sister ship 'Oceana' in 2004-07, they saw large flies in the larder. The 'Fred Olsen' ship 'Black Prince' caused inspectors 'huge concern' in 2004-09 because chillers for salad and fish were not cool enough to store food safely and had not been so 'for some time'. When 'Which?' asked cruise companies for their reaction to the findings, 'Thomson' told them a food safety management system was now in place on 'The Thomson Celebration' as required. 'Cunard' said cockroaches could turn up in luggage or deliveries but it had rigorous checks and dealt promptly with any found. It had not found any more before it handed over the ship in 2004-11. 'P&O' admitted the old veal on 'Aurora' should not have been there but added that its date would have been rechecked before use. It had clarified confusion over dates on the cheese and goose and found they were safe. It said it now had equipment to kill flies in the 'Oceana' larder. 'Fred Olsen' said it acted immediately over the chillers and has since increased checks. The Norovirus stomach bug that hit the 'Aurora' en route from Southampton to the Mediterranean in 2003-10 was one of the highest-profile incidents in cruise ship history and also sparked off a diplomatic incident. Greek doctors ferried aid to 430 people struck down by the bug when the liner was anchored off Athens after Greek officials barred the 76_000-tonne liner from docking. The vessel, carrying around 1_800 passengers and 800 crew, then departed for Gibraltar. However, Gibraltar became the centre of a political row after Spain closed its border with the Rock following the ship's arrival. Squads of National Police and paramilitary Civil Guards effectively cut off the tiny British colony shortly before the 'Aurora' arrived. The move, the first time the border had been closed for more than 17 years, was attacked by 'The Foreign Secretary' Mr. Jack Straw, as 'unnecessary and unwelcome'. Chief Minister of Gibraltar Mr.Peter Caruana, said British passengers had been forced to 'float around the Mediterranean like unwanted refugees'. He attacked the Spanish move, calling it unnecessary, unreasoned and over the top.
'If Spain were not claiming sovereignty of Gibraltar, the frontier would not be closed as a result of this incident.'
The closure also stranded more than 4_000 Spaniards who cross the border every day to work in Gibraltar. The Spanish health minister Ms.Ana Pastor, said the closure was a preventive measure 'so that no Spanish citizen runs any kind of risk'. The Spanish government re-opened the border after the cruise ship had left. 'Cruise firms sail into health storm, Shan Ross, The Scotsman, 2005-09-01

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