A friend of mine is on a cruise ship right now. No, not the Costa Concordia cruise ship that became a scene of tragedy and mayhem, with 11 people dead and 28 missing, and is now floating on its side in the Mediterranean.
When he first told me he’d bought the cruise for a romantic getaway, I tried to keep a poker face, although I think I did end up saying, “Are you insane?” I have never understood why anyone would want to file onto a big boat with thousands of other people and go out to the middle of the ocean, where the only escape is a lifeboat or diving into shark-infested waters hoping you’ll be rescued. I am admittedly the worst claustrophobic I know and the very thought of being trapped like this sends shivers through me.
“It’s a big boat,” my friend said.
“On which you are confined,” I replied. People don’t understand claustrophobics. It’s not just about room, it’s about having an escape. We need one. Wherever I go, I always know where the exits are.
When the news story broke on Saturday about this latest horror on the seas – the search for survivors, the number of dead, the jailed captain – I emailed my friend hoping he could actually respond in the middle of the Atlantic. When I finally heard back from him, he said they had been chased by a storm, making it impossible to sail around the Horn of Africa. In fact, they hadn’t even been able to see it. And then there was an outbreak of norovirus, which he and his partner had not caught but they were in the lucky minority. So many passengers on the ship were sick, officials in the Falklands wouldn’t let them dock.
“Abandon ship,” I emailed back. “Come home immediately!”
I’d never even heard of norovirus. (Damn you, House and Grey’s Anatomy. Have you never done an episode on cruise maladies?) Google informed me that it’s a nasty gastrointestinal thing and is very common on cruise ships, where it, of course, sweeps through the confined population and the ship becomes a floating epidemic.
“The stewards are disinfecting the rails, the elevator buttons, the decks and all common surfaces,” my friend’s second email said. “But the glaciers in the Chilean fjords were lovely.”
“ABANDON SHIP!!” I figured the capital letters and exclamation points would force the issue. I haven’t heard from him since, which either means he’s ill, or someone found my messages and confiscated his smartphone. Or he’s rolling his eyes at me.
I would like to point out that a simple Google search leads to some frightening statistics. Legionnaire’s disease was so rampant on cruise ships in 2003 and 2004, several cruise lines had to dock their boats and completely disinfect the vessels. In 2006, a total of 7,215 people on cruise ships got ill with various stomach viruses, including norovirus. And 2010 wasn’t much better. The total for that year was 7,101.
Anyone foolish enough to consider going on a cruise ship should go to the website CruiseJunkie.com and I am sure common sense will prevail once you read how ridiculously dangerous this is. I don’t care how big the boat is, you’re in an incubation vessel for viruses that proliferate with alarming speed.
If being surrounded by thousands of barfing people isn’t enough to deter you, consider the murkiness of maritime law and the fact that, if you are the victim of a crime, there might be no recourse for you.
A cruise ship in open seas follows the laws of the flag it flies under. In 2006, a woman on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship was raped while sailing in the Mexican Riviera. She reported it to the FBI when she got home, but they told her there was nothing they could do. Technically, she wasn’t in America when it happened.