Flies in the food preparation areas. Milk, cheese, eggs and yogurt kept in too-hot temperatures. Soiled and clogged machinery.
These were some of the conditions uncovered by two inspectors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a routine November inspection of the Carnival Triumph.
More than two dozen violations aboard the 2,754-passenger vessel led the CDC to slap Triumph with a failing grade in a recently released inspection report.
The failure constituted a rare occurrence for a large cruise ship. Large vessels belonging to major cruise lines often score a passing grade on the CDC inspections: 86 points or above, out of 100.
Triumph scored a 78.
As far as a large ship, I couldn’t tell you the last time this happened. That’s how rare this is.
Stewart Chiron, Miami-based cruise expert
“As far as a large ship, I couldn’t tell you the last time this happened,” said Miami-based cruise expert Stewart Chiron. “That’s how rare this is.”
The CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program helps prevent and control the spread of gastrointestinal illnesses, such as norovirus, on cruise ships by performing periodic, unannounced inspections every year with one to four inspectors, depending on the size of the ship.
The last major failure by a cruise line to snag headlines was luxury line Silversea’s Silver Shadow, which was slapped with a failing grade in 2013 when inspectors found crew hiding 15 trolleys of food in their cabins to avoid inspection. The Silver Shadow scored an 82.
In June 2017, the Carnival Paradise scored an 83 before corrections and a re-inspection two months later brought its score back up to a 96.
The Triumph isn’t new to sanitation issues, either. The ship was dubbed the “poop cruise” in 2013 when an engine room fire caused the ship to lose propulsion and left passengers with a limited number of working bathrooms and no air conditioning. It was eventually tugged back to Alabama from Mexico — but not until after tales of the foul odors, dark hallways and food shortages became notorious.
Triumph, which now sails from New Orleans, earned a 78 in 2017 due to a combination of mistakes, many of them related to faulty machinery.
Dirty dishwasher issues were common, with one taken out of service after it was “extremely soiled with debris” and another found to have 10 clogged wash nozzles. Other violations included water leaks, corrosion in an ice machine, and disrepair in food-and-beverage areas, including recessed grouting, broken tiles and broken glass.
Water fountains were found to be “heavily soiled” with “orange/yellow residue” in one and “thick black and brown residue as well as an orange/pink residue” in another.
CDC inspectors also said they found “at least eight flies” in mainly food preparation areas and beverage stations.
“A large quantity of potentially hazardous food,” including milk, eggs, yogurt, ricotta, goat and brie cheese; and chocolate and vanilla dessert mix, were stored in temperatures between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, well above the guideline of 41 degrees or less. Inspectors ultimately discarded all the food that was stored incorrectly.
Doral-based Carnival Cruise Lines said it set about correcting the issues “immediately” and a correction-action report was provided to the CDC detailing how it fixed the issues. The line has requested a re-inspection as soon as possible, said spokeswoman Jennifer De La Cruz in a statement.
The health and well-being of our guests and crew is Carnival Cruise Lines’ highest priority, and on the extremely rare occasion when one of our ships has an unsatisfactory score, we initiate immediate and aggressive corrective action and closely examine the factors involved to ensure full understanding among all team members.
Jennifer De La Cruz, Carnival Cruise Line spokeswoman
“The health and well-being of our guests and crew is Carnival Cruise Lines’ highest priority, and on the extremely rare occasion when one of our ships has an unsatisfactory score, we initiate immediate and aggressive corrective action and closely examine the factors involved to ensure full understanding among all team members,” she said.
According to CDC records dating back to 1999, the Triumph has never failed an inspection.
In 2017 the only other ships to score failing grades were luxury French line Ponant’s Le Boreal, which earned an 84; Peace Boat’s Ocean Dream with an 82; Victory Cruise Line’s Victory I, which also earned a 78, and a little-known Caribbean ferry, Kydon, which scored a 58. All are far smaller than the Triumph.
The news of the unsanitary conditions follows a report of a large stomach virus outbreak on Royal Caribbean International’s Independence of the Seas last month that affected about 220 passengers. Norovirus is spread through contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces.
Lots of restaurants keep on failing and eventually close so I don't think it's like that. I don't recall any cruise ship ever stopping service due to CDC failures. So, [it’s] not a pretty picture, but [it’s] correctable.
Mike Driscoll, editor of the trade publication Cruise Week
Still, the Independence of the Seas, for instance, has never received a failing inspection score and earned a 98 in its most recent inspection in April 2017, despite the recent outbreak. According to the CDC, though people often associate cruise ships with illnesses such as norovirus, “acute gastrointestinal illness is relatively infrequent on cruise ships despite its notoriety.”
But the two may not be related.
“The correlation between failed [United States Public Health] inspections and gastrointestinal outbreaks on crew ships however is not clear,” said Miami-based maritime lawyer James Walker. “Unfortunately, the cruise lines will always blame the passengers for bringing the virus onto the ship and will always defend the integrity of the food and water sources and the cleanliness of their galleys on their ships irrespective of what the USPH inspectors find.”
Ultimately, there will likely be no long-term impact for the Triumph, said Mike Driscoll, editor of the trade publication Cruise Week, as long as the ship passes its next re-inspection.
“Lots of restaurants keep on failing and eventually close so I don’t think it’s like that. I don’t recall any cruise ship ever stopping service due to CDC failures,” Driscoll said. “So, [it’s] not a pretty picture, but [it’s] correctable.”