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Ship Sanitation Better, but 38% Still Fail Test

June 11, 1989|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH | Slater and Basch are Los Angeles free-lance writers

Cruise ship sanitation is improving, according to the vessel sanitation division of the U.S. Public Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control. As of May 12, 52 of 84--or 62% of the ships inspected--made passing grades.

Of course, looked at another way, it still means that almost 40% of the ships failed the sanitation inspection.

Still, the latest report compares favorably with one issued on May 13, 1988, which showed 34 passes and 37 failures. The number of cruise ships has grown over the past year.

In Miami, Tom Hunt, chief of vessel sanitation control, attributed some of the improvement to a new system that publishes the numerical grades given to ships rather than the previously-used designations of "satisfactory" and "not satisfactory."

"Publishing the numerical scores has made ships much more sensitive to their scores than the old pass/fail system," Hunt said. "Now, someone with a score of 50 or under is extremely concerned."

A passing grade is 86 or above.

The highest score on the present tally, and the highest grade since the score numbers have been published, is a 95 for Royal Cruise Line's new Crown Odyssey, which entered service in June, 1988.

Other over-90 scorers include: Carnival's Festivale; Chandris' Azur; Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam, Noordam and Rotterdam; Norwegian Cruise Line's Starward and Sunward II; Regency's Regent Sea; Royal Viking's Royal Viking Sun and Royal Viking Sky and SeaEscape's Scandinavian Saga.

The lowest score on the sheet is 23 points for Epirotiki's Oceanos. Other ships in the 50-and-under category are: Pride Cruise Line's Gulfport, Miss.-based Pride of Mississippi (until recently Epirotiki's Atlas) with a 38; Costa's Danae with a 48; Royal Viking Star with a 49 and Epirotiki's Odysseus with a 50.

Ten of the 32 failures earned marks of 80 to 85, near the 86 necessary to pass.

What causes a ship to fail?

"Generally, failures are a combination of food and water problems," Hunt said. "It's rare that one problem causes them to fail. It's usually a combination of several factors."

Improper food handling represents most major point losses, with problems in food storage temperature control, as well as preparation and serving areas, the most critical factors.

Unannounced inspections are regularly carried out on foreign-flag ships that call at U.S. ports. Inspections focus on drinking water and swimming pool water, food preparation and holding, potential contamination of food and general cleanliness, storage and repair.

Hunt and members of his staff assist cruise lines in the planning and installation of approved galley and water-treatment equipment for new vessels during the construction period.

Cruise lines cooperate voluntarily. The vessel sanitation agency cannot forbid a ship with extreme sanitation problems to sail until the problems are corrected. It can only recommend that it not do so.

Although that situation has not occurred since Hunt took over his post, he said, "I think a vessel (in that situation) would do everything possible to comply. . . . I think with the exception of one cruise line, everybody is bending over backwards to cooperate with us."

He refused to name the exception, but added that even that company is investigating the possibility of hiring sanitation consultants to come on board their ships.

It is important to note that a failing grade does not mean illness is more likely among passengers, nor does a passing grade mean that ship sanitation is perfect.

To receive a free copy of the most recent sanitation inspection report on any vessel: write to Chief, Vessel Sanitation Program, Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control, 1015 North America Way, Room 107, Miami, Fla. 33132.

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A federal judge has ordered the beleaguered U.S.-flag ship Monterey, of Aloha Pacific Cruises, impounded in Honolulu on a foreclosure action brought by First Connecticut Bank & Trust on behalf of Wartsila Marine.

The Finnish shipbuilding company says it is owed $38 million for conversion work on the vessel, the largest share of the company's approximately $50-million debt. The lavishly refurbished Monterey made its debut last fall after being laid up in San Francisco for nearly a decade.

The vessel will remain in custody until Aloha Pacific resolves its financial difficulties or the court orders the ship put up for auction.

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