April 11, 2003
Malaysia-based Star Cruises -- parent of Norwegian Cruise Lines and Orient Lines -- is the first to report the possibility of an outbreak, apparently limited, of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Two crew members on 76,000-ton SuperStar Virgo have been taken to hospitals and 13 others have been quarantined. As a result, Star Cruises has canceled the ship's next two cruises; one's a weekend sailing and another, a five day voyage, was slated for a Sunday departure. While this appears to be the first cruise-related SARS outbreak, it is important to note that the two crew members have not officially been diagnosed with the illness and appear, according to media reports from Malaysia, to be recovering. Cruise Critic's call to STAR Cruises sister line NCL to confirm that fact was not returned. The cruise line, which sails Asia-based itineraries had, early on, proactively instituted a number of changes -- both onboard and in policy -- to keep SARS at bay. Among them included posting medical staff at embarkation areas to screen passengers, offering face masks, and providing information on SARS and its symptoms. Rising concern over the easy catchability of SARS in Asia resulted in changes as well by U.S.-oriented cruise lines like Holland America, Princess and Crystal, which are operating ships in the Asia region. These included a quick revision of itineraries and re-routing passengers who might be traveling through -- or spending time in -- key SARS-affected cities like Singapore and Hong Kong. Yesterday, we reported that efforts have spread beyond ships sailing in Asia as cruise lines such as Carnival and Princess have stepped up surveillance and education efforts at every port of embarkation.