Are Hygiene Standards High Enough?
News reports often focus on hygiene and sanitation aboard cruise ships. In the 1980s, the North American cruise industry agreed with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that hygiene and sanitation inspections should be carried out once or twice yearly aboard all cruise ships carrying American passengers, and the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) was born. The original intention of the VSP was to achieve and maintain a level of sanitation that would lower the risk of gastro-intestinal disease outbreaks and assist the cruise industry to provide a healthy environment for passengers and crew.
It is a voluntary inspection, and cruise lines pay handsomely for each inspection. However, the 42 inspection points are judged to be a good system that all should adhere to. The inspections cover two main areas:
The ships score extremely well – the ones that undergo inspections, that is. Some ships that don’t call on US ports would possibly not pass the inspections every time. Older ships with outdated galley equipment and poor food storage facilities would have a harder time complying with the USPH inspection standards. Some other countries also have strict health inspection standards. However, if the same USPH inspection standards were applied to restaurants and hotels ashore, it is estimated that at least 90 percent or more would fail, consistently. (Emphasis by Seasite.)
How Safe Are Cruise Ships?
How likely is an accident at sea? What if there’s a fire? Is lifeboat training provided? How good are medical facilities aboard?
You can’t always stop passengers having too much to drink and falling over balconies. But, as far as maritime accidents are concerned, cruising can claim the travel industry’s best safety record, with fewer than 20 passenger fatalities during the past 20 years. Eleven of those happened when the Royal Pacific sank off Malaysia in 1992 after colliding with a Taiwanese trawler.
International regulations require all crew to undergo basic safety training before they are allowed to work aboard any cruise ship. On-the-job training is no longer enough. And safety regulations are getting more stringent all the time, governed by an international convention called SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea).
All cruise ships built since July 1, 1986, must have either totally enclosed or partially enclosed lifeboats with diesel engines that will operate even if the lifeboat is inverted. Since October 1997, cruise ships have had:
Since 2002, ocean-going cruise ships on international voyages have had to carry voyage data recorders (VDRs), similar to black boxes carries by aircraft).
In October 2010, SOLAS regulations will prohibit the use of combustible materials in cruise ship construction. This means that as many as 50 pre-1974 vessels will either have to be withdrawn or be expensively upgraded.
Crew members attend frequent emergency drills, the lifeboat equipment is regularly tested, and the fire-detecting devices, and alarm and fire-fighting systems are checked. Any passenger spotting fire or smoke is encouraged to use the nearest fire alarm box, alert a member of staff, or contact the bridge.
A passenger lifeboat drill, announced publicly by the captain, must be held within 24 hours of leaving the embarkation port. Attendance is compulsory. Make sure you know your boat station or assembly point and how to get to it in the event of an emergency. If other passengers are lighthearted about the drill, don’t be distracted. Note your exit and escape pathways and learn how to put on your lifejacket correctly. The drill takes no more than 15 minutes and is a good investment in playing safe.
Most ships catering to North American passengers carry doctors licensed in the United States, Canada, or Britain, but doctors aboard many other ships come from a variety of countries and disciplines.
Cunard Line’s QM2, with 4,344 passengers and crew, has a fully equipped hospital with one surgeon, one doctor, a staff of six nurses, and two medical orderlies; contrast this with Carnival Sensation, which carries up to 3,514 passengers and crew, with just one doctor and two nurses.
Any ship operating long-distance cruises, with several days at sea should have better medical facilities than one engaged in a standard 7-day Caribbean cruise, with a port of call almost every day.
Ideally, a ship’s medical staff should be certified in advanced cardiac life support. The equipment should include an examination room, isolation ward/bed, X-ray machine (to verify fractures), cardiac monitor (EKG) and defibrillator, oxygen-saturation monitor, external pacemaker, oxygen, suction and ventilators, hematology analyzer, culture incubator, and a mobile trolley intensive care unit.
Any existing health problems requiring treatment on board must be reported when you book. Aboard some ships, you may be charged for filling a prescription as well as for the cost of prescribed drugs. There may also be a charge if, as a result of being unwell, you have to cancel a shore excursion and need a doctor’s letter to prove that you are ill.
Is Security Good Enough?
Cruise lines are subject to stringent international safety and security regulations. Passengers and crew can embark or disembark only by passing through a security checkpoint. Cruise ships maintain zero tolerance for onboard crime or offences against the person. Trained security professionals are employed aboard all cruise ships.
In the case of the USA, where more than 60 percent of cruise passengers reside, you will be far more secure aboard a cruise ship than almost anywhere on land.
It is recommended that you keep your cabin locked at all times when you are not there. All new ships have encoded plastic key cards that operate a lock electronically; older ships have metal keys. Cruise lines do not accept responsibility for any money or valuables left in cabins and suggest that you store them in a safety deposit box at the purser’s office, or, if one is provided, in your in-cabin personal safe.
You will be issued a personal boarding pass when you embark. This typically includes your photo, lifeboat station, restaurant seating, and other pertinent information, and serves as identification to be shown at the gangway each time you board. You may also be asked for a government-issued photo ID, such as a passport.
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Berlitz Ocean Cruising & Cruise Ships 2009 by Douglas Ward © Apa Publications 2008-2009 www.berlitzpublishing.com
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