Last January, the Royal Caribbean cruise line Explorer of the Seas held the dubious distinction of having the highest number of people sick on a cruise ship within the past 20 years. Nearly 700 people — 630 passengers and 54 crew members — were so sick the ship cut short its trip by two days.
“The first couple of days were a little wonky,” is the description of the voyage provided by Dr. Arthur Diskin, the University of Miami-educated medical doctor who oversees RCCL’s public health department as vice president and global chief medical officer of the Medical & Public Health Department at Royal Caribbean Cruises. “We had a large number of passengers exposed, with public vomiting, it got out of hand,” Diskin told the Miami Herald. “Three hundred people got ill in 24 hours. The numbers were staggering. We figured the best thing to do was to take the ship back early.”
Even before the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the scourge was the dreaded norovirus, Royal Caribbean called upon Broward-based ByoPlanet International to contain and correct the situation. With its patented electrostatic sanitization system, ByoPlanet disinfects contaminated cruise ships and just about any surface that has bacteria, mold and mildew, or even anthrax. Its products can be used anywhere from nursing homes (which historically have a high incidence of norovirus outbreaks), hospitals (to contain outbreaks of Staph infections and the flesh-eating bacteria known as MRSA), gymnasiums and locker rooms, and even private residences.
In an effort to stem the outbreak aboard Explorer of the Seas and to prevent similar problems on future cruises, Royal Caribbean undertook an extensive sanitation of the entire ship.
“We asked for extra personnel so that we could electrostatically spray the ship from top to bottom,” Diskin said, adding, “The turn-around was very effective. We haven’t had back-to-back outbreaks. This helps prevent outbreaks.”
According to Diskin, Royal Caribbean has been using ByoPlanet’s products for four years. The crew members dispense ByoPlanet’s secret chemical formula with a handheld sprayer that resembles a black Super Soaker. Instead of a blast of water, however, the ByoPlanet sprayer emits a soft mist that company President Rick O’Shea maintains won’t damage electronics or harm humans.
“The chemicals are safe enough to drink, but you wouldn’t want to do that,” said O’Shea, who demonstrated his claim by spraying the mist onto his tongue. Afterward, he neither gagged nor reached for an antidote. Instead, he continued to talk about the merits of his product, which he says differs from other cleaning products in that it is not used to wipe away germs but to envelope them.
The sprayer wand has an electrostatic charge that enables the sprayed chemicals to adhere to surfaces. As the mist shoots past a table or chair, it reverses course and coats both the front and back of the furniture due to the electrostatic charge, he said. Two lithium batteries charge the tip of the spray wand with 1,200 watts, enough energy to run a clock radio.
Although not enough to shock, that charge is literally hair-raising. Like a cool science experiment, O’Shea showed how his hair stood on end when he waved the spray wand over his head. The electrostatic charge on the end of the wand acted like a magnet, pulling his hair skyward.
In essence, ByoPlanet’s technology shrink-wraps the bacteria that cause odor, mar furniture and walls, or make us sick. Unlike traditional cleaning, which involves spreading chemicals with a mop or rag and then wiping them off, the ByoPlanet spray remains in place. According to O’Shea, it effectively kills any other bacteria that lands on that surface for up to 72 hours.
O’Shea got into the germ-busting business in a round-about way: He started out as a golf pro.
“I had a sip of coffee on the PGA Tour,” is how he describes his short tenure as a pro. The golfer with the improbable name — Rick O’Shea, which sounds like what a golf ball does after it hits a tree — would soon recreate himself. He turned his passion into a profitable business.
After studying business finance at the University of Southern California, O’Shea embarked on a shipboard golf pro business in 1996. It all began with a chance invitation from Norwegian Cruise Lines to run a golf clinic that year. Rather than see that venture as a limited special event, O’Shea capitalized on his expertise.
Shortly after his golf pro experience on NCL, O’Shea founded a company that would later be known as Elite Golf Cruises. Although he would remain on the professional golf circuit through 1999, O’Shea continued to grow his company. Eventually it became the leader in onboard golf lessons and excursions, with annual sales of $12 million and services aboard 65 ships. He catered to passengers aboard the Carnival, Holland America, NCL, Princess and Silversea lines. He also provided much needed additional income for fellow golf pros.
The business was good for both O’Shea and the cruise industry. “Golfers outspend other passengers five to one,” he explained. “They spend their money at the casino, the bar, on art.”
All went well until 2006. That year, several of his golf pros got sick at sea. And every day spent sick in bed was a lost opportunity to earn money.
“2006 was a very rough year for norovirus outbreaks,” he said. “That was when I had an epiphany.”
Aside from providing the golf pros with sanitary wipes to use on their golf clubs, O’Shea researched the best way to protect his golfing buddies — and his investment. That led to a new business venture that took off just as his shipboard golf concession began tanking as a result of the Great Recession of 2008-2009.
“I went on Google,” he said. “I researched different ways to eradicate the virus and keep the golf pro’s cabin clean. At least I could keep my guys safe.”
His research led O’Shea to the University of Georgia, where scientists were exploring the use of electrostatic sprayers to rid agricultural pests. O’Shea assembled a group of scientists, including a chemist with a doctorate from MIT. He is constantly looking for ways to improve both the chemicals used and the delivery system deployed.
The company has a new product called TriOx that is distributed to customers in a dispenser. The user just plugs in the dispenser and adds water to the mix. Then maintenance workers either strap on a backpack loaded with the mixture or tote a larger canister on wheels much the way they would with hand luggage. TriOx also uses the electrostatic process.
ByoPlanet Chairman and CEO Randall Holloway met O’Shea during a Silversea golf excursion to Ireland and Scotland. They became fast friends, and Holloway, whose family founded Holloway Sportswear and is known for its varsity jackets, provided the cash to research the cleaning products and develop the company.
“Most of this is Rick’s vision,” he said. “I just came along to lend some financial assistance.”
Holloway said he has sunk millions into the company and is enthusiastic about its potential. “We have several exciting projects,” he said. “In the car industry one guy is going to spray rental cars because it kills odors such as tobacco smoke and urine. It can be used in assisted living facilities. We can kill odors and bacteria, mold and mildew. We’re in contact with a hotel group of 6,000 hotels. They are greatly interested in two things: mold and mildew, and bedbugs.”
The process can also be used to prevent food-borne illness at its source, he said.
“We’re talking with several grocery store chains,” he said. “We can spray their produce, fish, meat. It will stay fresh an additional four to five days because we’ve killed the bacteria. With our TriOx, you can actually put it in your mouth and drink it if you want to. It doesn’t taste all that great, but it won’t hurt you.”
Private and public companies are not the only ones interested in the product. Even the military expressed interest, Holloway said.
The process is so revolutionary, Holloway said, “Everyone is in disbelief.” But he doesn’t want people to take his word for how effective the product is. The company is in the process of creating a White Paper to study its efficacy. Medical schools at New York University and the University of Toledo are slated to conduct independent studies on how well the product kills bacteria, O’Shea said.
Although there are several companies that provide large-scale industrial cleaning operations, such as Johnson Diversity, 3M and Swisher Hygiene of North Carolina, O’Shea sees his biggest competitor as Ecolab, which is under contract to clean McDonald’s restaurants worldwide. What sets ByoPlanet apart is that it is the only South Florida-headquartered company in the business, and it is the only one to use electrostatic technology, O’Shea said.
Costs for the service are determined by size of the area that needs to be sprayed. Although the company’s largest clients are in the cruise ship industry, home services make up about 20 percent of its business; the company has a “Certified Mold remediation arm,” said a company spokesman. The average cost for a home visit in Florida is about $149, the company said.
At least one local homeowner was thrilled with the service.
Alicia Laszewski hired ByoPlanet to spray her 3,500-square-foot Davie home last year after one family member after another came down with an intestinal bug and fevers that spiked at 103 degrees. Her husband was returning from a business trip and her stepson was planning to visit, and Laszewski didn’t want them to get sick, too.
“ByoPlanet came and sprayed the whole house, and they didn’t get it,” she said. “That’s when I became a believer.” Laszewski says she was so pleased with the result that she later did some consulting work for the company’s website.
“I can’t tell you if that’s exactly how my husband and stepson didn’t get sick,” she said, “But boy-oh-boy. I’ve done work for them since then because I’ve become a believer.”