The lawsuit looks a bit like a shake-down, but Royal Caribbean and its peers will continue to have a hard time enforcing hygiene on their front lines if they have a labor pool that's severely underpaid.
Cruise ship passengers who fell ill on board a luxury liner have lodged a High Court claim for damages, claiming that hygiene was so bad a waiter sneezed into a napkin before placing it on a table and that a cabin was infested with sewer flies.
A group of 25 passengers who sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas between December 2010 and June 2011 are suing the operator for £500,000 after contracting stomach bugs during the holiday.
They claim “multiple cases of gastroenteritis” had broken out on previous cruises yet the ship had not been adequately cleaned and they had not been warned they were boarding a “sick ship”.
In court documents, they say their dream holidays were ruined by the alleged lapses in hygiene and that there were often ambulances waiting for customers at the ports visited.
They allege that staff had failed properly to clean the ship prior to the commencement of the cruises and had failed to properly to clean the cabins once the passengers had begun to suffer symptoms of illness.
Charles Crow, the barrister representing the group, said the passengers had chosen Royal Caribbean because the company was said to be “committed to excellence”.
He said they had “relied upon Royal Caribbean’s descriptions of the ship’s accommodation, board, services and facilities” as well as the promise that they could “look forward to an experience like no other.”
His writ stated: “The passengers would have presumed and Royal Caribbean must have intended this to mean a unique experience for good reasons.”
However, he said they had been let down by the company’s failure to warn them about previous sickness on board and its alleged inability to enforce stringent levels of hygiene.
“The company, despite multiple cases of gastroenteritis on previous cruises, failed to effectively remedy the situation, whether by way of adequate cleaning/sanitisation or greater control in the preparation of food and drink,” he said.
“Royal Caribbean failed to allocate the passengers to a ship which was not experiencing an outbreak of gastric illness, (or) if no such ship was available, failed to notify them prior to embarkation and/or offer them a full refund.
“Had the passengers been made aware in advance, they would have been likely to have refused to travel and so avoided illness, loss and damage.”
Mr Crow said the company, based in Weybridge, Surrey, had “failed to ensure food and drink was safe for consumption” and had provided unhygienic food that was capable of and did cause the claimants to suffer illness”.
Two of the passengers are said to have “observed one waiter wipe his nose on his sleeve and another sneeze into a napkin which was then placed onto a table”. The same couple is alleged to have “found sewer flies in their bathroom cabinet.”
A Royal Caribbean spokeswoman insisted that not all 25 guests had experienced illness. She said those who had, had responded well to over-the-counter medication administered on board and did not require further treatment from medical teams.
“The 25 guests were across five different sailings within a seven-month period,” she added. “In this time period, the ship sailed on 15 cruises, welcoming over 67,000 guests.
“Regarding the instances referred to, our crew conducted extensive cleaning on-board the ship and guests were kept up to date on these additional measures prior to embarkation and throughout their cruise.
“Guests were also provided with advice and information on preventive steps and good hygiene, including hand washing and making use of hand sanitisers that we provided throughout the ship. Our hygiene procedures on-board are comprehensive and always strictly adhered to.”
In May 2010, Royal Caribbean announced that 94 people had been stricken with vomiting and diarrhoea while on a five day voyage around Northern Europe.
It was the third outbreak of gastrointestinal illness in three months aboard the Vision of the Seas. Two months earlier, the ship was briefly placed under quarantine after hundreds of people came down with gastroenteritis in a separate cruise off Brazil.
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Photo credit: The Independence of the Seas in port. Stephen & Katherine / Flickr.com