The Crazy Number of Cruise Ships That Failed Their Health Inspections

Taking a cruise can be the ultimate vacation — sailing the open seas on a well-appointed boat and eating and drinking whatever you want whenever you want is a great way to relax. That said, you’ve all heard horror stories about diseases breaking out on cruises, which, if it happened to you, could really tank your vacation.

One good way to judge if a ship is up to snuff is if it passed health inspections — and unfortunately, 2017 was a particularly bad year for that in the cruise industry. Find out the where, when, why, and how about cruise ships failing their health inspections — it just might make you want to rethink that vacation on the high seas.

1. 2017 was a banner year for inspection failures

Failed cruise ship

It was the worst year since the program started. | NAN104/iStock/Getty Images

When MarketWatch analyzed reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it found that more cruise ships failed health inspections in 2017 than in any other ever since the program started in 1990. In fact, in 2017, one cruise ship actually failed a health inspection on 17 different points. In 2017, a total of 15 ships failed inspections, according to the Miami Herald.

Next: This is worse than failing

2. Failing twice isn’t nice

The Signature class cruise ship MS Eurodam arrives in the Dutch port

That’s a big problem. | Robin Utrecht/AFP/Getty Images

A ship operated by Ferries Del Caribe, failed health inspections not once, but twice. Once a ship fails it gets inspected again to make sure the cruise line cleaned up whatever made it fail. Of the ships that were re-inspected in 2017, only half have received a passing score.

Next: Reasons ships fail

3. The many reasons ships don’t pass

cleaning the floor with a old mop, mopping

A dirty mop could fail you. | Voyagerix/iStock/Getty Images

Cruise ships can fail an inspection for a wide range of reasons, which range in severity, according to MarketWatch. For example, a cruise ship can be sited for something as small as an improperly stored mop or as big as the crew still working while it had gastrointestinal illness symptoms.

Next: One cruise line got hit badly

4. Carnival Cruise Lines did poorly in 2017

Stranded cruise ship fire

Five of their ships failed inspection. | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Carnival Cruise Lines had some unfortunate news in 2017. Five of its ships received failing grades — and three of those occurred in November and December. And another Carnival ship, The Liberty, has already failed an inspection in 2018.

Carnival ships were cited for using cleaning solutions that didn’t contain chlorine, having fruit flies near a buffet, and storing clean coffee carafes near soiled items — among other issues — according to MarketWatch. That said, three of the six ships that failed have been re-inspected — and they passed the second time around.

Next: Carnival Cruise Line reacts

5. Carnival cleans up its act

The Carnival Freedom

They claim to have instituted a new training program. | Karen Bleier/Getty Images

According to the Miami Herald, Carnival Cruise Line has already started the process of avoiding failures in the future. With four failed inspections from November 2017 to January 2018, Carnival claims it has implemented an intensive, fleet-wide retraining program to pass future inspections.

“All retraining is complete across our fleet. We have implemented continuing education, as well as bi-weekly conference calls for all of our food operations teams to share best practices and learnings,” Carnival said in a statement. It must be working because the cruise lines’ ships have passed two re-inspections out of the four so far.

Next: Things are getting worse.

6. Failed inspections are on the rise

Cruise Port in St. Maarten

There has been an increase in failures. | fallbrook/iStock/Getty Images

More than 250 cruise ships were inspected in 2017, so in actuality the number of ships that failed represents only a fraction of the industry’s overall performance. The number of failed inspections also represented, however, a significant rise from recent years. For example, 2016 saw only four ships fail a CDC inspection, 2013 saw 15, and 2010 saw only one.

Next: How things work

7. Cruise ship inspection schedule

Kitchen of a cruise ship

There are at least two surprise inspections a year. | Marina113/iStock/Getty Images

The Vessel Sanitation Program by the U.S. Public Health Service — under the auspices of the CDC — makes periodic inspections of cruise ships, according to MarketWatch. The inspections must take place when the ship is docked at a U.S. port — and the visits are unannounced. Cruise ships receive at least two inspections per year if they that sail with at least 13 passengers aboard and have foreign itineraries with U.S. ports.

Next: Inspection areas

8. Here’s where inspectors inspect

Man in hot tub on cruise ship

The pool and dining areas all get inspected. | Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Anywhere from one to four inspectors at a time conduct cruise ship inspections, according to MarketWatch. They check to ensure compliance with current operations guidelines and concentrate on eight main areas on the ship: dining rooms, kitchens, medical facilities, hotel accommodations, swimming pools, child activity centers, potable water systems, and ventilation systems.

In addition, inspectors must determine if ship personnel comply with protocol, such as documenting any incidents of gastrointestinal illness. This is especially important on cruise ships, where viruses can spread like lighting among passengers in such close quarters.

Next: The points system

9. This is how the inspection scale works

Woman checking quality of coffee

Anything under 86 is a failing grade. | LiudmylaSupynska/iStock/Getty Images

Cruise ships are scored on a 100-point scale, according to MarketWatch. If a ship scores below 86, it fails the inspection. If an inspector finds anything major, the cruise line must correct those things immediately.

Next: You’ll never guess who funds the inspections

10. The cruise industry pays for inspections

banking and people concept

They pay for their own inspections. | Dolgachov/iStock/Getty Images

 Cruise ships must pay for their inspections. The fees range from $1,495 to $17,940, and the larger the ship, the more it must pay. The money from the inspections funds the entire program.

Next: No mandatory inspections?

11. Inspections are voluntary

Workers and crew members gather during the delivery ceremony of the MSC Meraviglia cruise ship

It’s technically voluntary. | Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/Getty Images

According to MarketWatch, a cruise ship’s inspection is technically voluntary. The CDC, however, is authorized by the Public Health Service act to “take measures necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases into the United States from a foreign country.” In other words, not too many ships refuse inspection.

Next: No grade in the window

12. How do you know about a ship’s results?

Royal Caribbean Ship Carrying Hundreds Of Sick Passengers Returns To Port Early

Most people don’t hear about issues until it’s too late. | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

You’ve seen restaurants that post health inspection grades in the windows. But ships don’t post their grades. To find out how a cruise ship fared in an inspection, you have to check the CDC’s website.

Next: Foolproof results?

13. Inspections aren’t foolproof

Norovirus cruise ship

Over 700 people were sickened with Norovirus with unknown origins on this ship. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Illness outbreaks aboard cruise ships don’t always correlate with failed inspection grades on inspections, according to MarketWatch. In 2017, the CDC reported 11 outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships, but only two of those outbreaks happened on ships that had failed inspections at some point in the year.

Next: The inspections’ big flaw

14. Inspections happen only on ships that make port in the U.S.

Cruise Ships in The Port of Miami, Florida, United States

Only U.S. ports fall under this jurisdiction. | jirivondrous/iStock/Getty Images

 According to MarketWatch, the biggest problem with the Vessel Sanitation Program is that it has jurisdiction only ships that make port in the U.S. “There are few other countries throughout the world doing similar inspections, so American passengers traveling throughout the world on cruise ships won’t have the same guarantees that they ships will be as clean and safe,” said Ross Klein, a professor in the School of Social Work at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, who tracks operational incidents involving cruise ships.

Next: Why more ships are failing

15. It’s hard to figure out why there were so many ships that failed last year

Confused older man at a desk

There are many things that haven’t been up to standards. | Tay Jnr/iStock/Getty Images

 It’s not clear why the sudden uptick in failed inspections happened in 2017. “The frequency of ships not passing has certainly varied over the years,” Klein said. “I’m not sure if ships are being less vigilant or if the people conducting the inspections are being more vigilant.”

“You can get 100% but there can still be a number of citations for things that were not up to standards,” Klein said. “So it could be that certain inspectors are being less flexible.” For example, a ship that scored 100 in an inspection was cited for storing boxes of fruit juice near raw eggshells and for one crew member showing symptoms of gastroenteritis while still working.

Next: The big coverup

16. This ship willfully hid stuff

Bad food

They hid items to avoid inspection. | Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images

 What’s worse than a ship failing an inspection? A ship making an organized effort to hide things that would make it fail.

According to the Miami Herald, inspectors checked the Carnival Vista in Miami on Dec. 2, 2017, only to find that the crew had hidden some nasty violations. They hid hazardous food, raw produce, utensils and other items in the crew’s quarters to avoid inspection. In addition, several 2017 inspections revelaed crew members working despite the fact they had symptoms of acute gastroenteritis.


Read more: These Are the Weird Cruise Ship Crimes You Never Knew About

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