Sailing the sick seas with Holland America

My thanks to the passengers and crew of the Holland America’s Ryndam, who returned to San Diego, Calif., yesterday on a norovirus-infected vessel. The highly contagious gastrointestinal virus reportedly afflicted 100 vacationers on the 10-day cruise, and provided a nice news peg for my latest column.

Actually, I’m not grateful to Holland America for unwittingly helping me to underscore my point about noroviruses. As someone who has caught the bug myself, I feel for those passengers. Really do.

Expect more reports of sick cruise ships in the next few weeks. It’s almost March after all, and every chart of Norwalk infection rates that I see shows a peak during the month of March and in early April.

But the question I hear no one asking is: Which ships are likeliest to infect me?

A search of the Centers for Disease Control’s Vessel Sanitation Reports reveals the troublesome ships. Here are the vessels that failed to pass muster last year:

Stad Amsterdam Stad Amsterdam (3/29/2007)

Score: 56/100

“Potentially hazardous food temperatures storage, preparation display, service, transportation … there was no documentation noting that the fish was frozen to the time and temperature required for parasite destruction.”

(Comment: yuck!)

Nautilus Explorer Lever Diving (6/24/2007)

Score: 74/100

“A heavy accumulation of food debris was noted in many of the open seams within the counter.”

(Comment: gross!)

Norwegian Cruise Lines Pride of Aloha (12/21/2007)

Score: 78/100

“The only two handwash stations in the Vegetable Preparation Room had paper towel dispensers which did not function, and two workers were present during this inspection.”

(Comment: umm, do the math.)

Here are the ships with norovirus or suspected norovirus outbreaks in the recent past:

Carnival Cruise Line Holiday (1/24-1/28)
Norwegian Cruise Lines Norwegian Star (1/19-1/27)
Holland America Line Noordam (1/5-1/16)
Holland America Line Volendam (1/2-1/12)

Holland America seems to be well-represented when it comes to recent outbreaks. There are four reports in the previous year as well.

The cruise line published an advisory on the norovirus situation, but appears to have removed it from its site as of this morning.

It’s difficult to say with any certainty that Holland America’s ships are likelier to infect you than another cruise ship. None of its vessels have failed a CDC inspection, but as the numbers show, there are quite a few recent norovirus outbreaks — four of them on the Ryndam since May of 2006.

So what’s the bottom line to you if you’re taking a cruise? Check the Vessel Sanitation Report to see your ship’s scores, follow some basic guidelines for preventing the spread of germs, and you might want to think twice before sailing on the Ryndam.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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