According to spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez, the 2,390-passenger, 20-plus-year-old vessel earned a 96 during the January 6 reinspection in its Port Canaveral homeport. The examination was conducted as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP). The surprise exams are carried out twice a year on participating ships that meet the following criteria: 13 or more passengers, on a foreign itinerary, calling in a U.S. port(s). Eighty-six is considered a passing grade.
Monarch's detailed CDC report for the January 6 inspection is not yet posted on the government Web site, where records of exams are available to the public.
Monarch, which sails three- and four-night Bahamas cruises from Port Canaveral, earned 2011's second failing score when it was slapped with an 84 on November 18. Cunard's Queen Mary 2 received an 84 during its June 10 exam and subsequently scored a 92 on a July retest.
Typically, failing ships are reinspected within 30 to 45 days -- and consecutive flunkings are almost unheard of. "We have very few ships (less than three per year) that fail the VSP inspection," Captain Jaret Ames, VSP director, told Cruise Critic during a 2010 interview, "and these ships do not fail in the reinspection."
But even if the ship fails again, the only penalty may be the potential bad press garnered by earning another substandard score. As Ames noted previously, "There is no other penalty unless the ship falls into one of the imminent hazard situations where a possible 'no sail' results" -- which can happen at any time. This might be sparked by nonfunctioning refrigeration or wastewater systems, or a continuing gastrointestinal illness or Norovirus outbreak that cannot be controlled -- and the organization can issue a no-sail recommendation (as occurred with Celebrity Mercury in March 2010) or even a no-sail order.
This order, made by the CDC's chief quarantine officer and enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard, is exceptionally rare. The sole instance of a no-sail order occurred in 2001, when Arcadia (no relation to the P&O Cruises vessel) was detained during a Great Lakes cruise. According to an Associated Press report from the time, the ship earned a 59 on one inspection, then failed another. At that point, the CDC recommended that Arcadia stop sailing until problems were corrected. The ship sailed anyway, and the no-sail recommendation became an order following a third inspection.
--by Dan Askin, News Editor