April 30, 2003
In an effort to reduce passenger confusion over SARS policies at individual cruise lines, the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL), in conjunction with the industry itself, has come up with a standardized set of rules. The news isn't really in the recommendations ICCL offers -- most if not all cruise lines are already carrying out various policies -- but the list does offer some much-needed industry-wide clarity, particularly for cruise passengers who might be affected. Among them include: Designating, as illness numbers warrant, special regions of concern, and also those areas where SARS issues merit increased screening. For now, the "areas of special concern" as outlined by ICCL include the usual suspects of China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Singapore. And Toronto is the only city to make the list requiring "increased screening." Advance Notification: ICCL has set out a policy that basically requires cruise lines to proactively contact any potential passenger hailing from one of the "areas of special concern" and advise them of any rules that could result in a denied boarding decision. Pre-Boarding Screening: The rule now is that all passengers, visitors and crew boarding any of ICCL's member cruise lines, will be required to complete and sign a written questionnaire prior to boarding. Even the questionnaire will be fairly standardized, attempting to discern whether there's been contact with a SARS-sufferer or transit through areas on the "list." Denial of Boarding Policy: States flat-out that "all passengers, visitors and crew who have been in, or have transferred or transited through, an Area of Special Concern within the preceding 10 days will be denied boarding, along with their immediate traveling party." Same goes for anyone who has had close contact with a "confirmed or suspect SARS patient, SARS care provider, SARS healthcare setting or a SARS household within the preceding 10 days." ICCL's Michael Crye notes that the motive for standardizing policies is to ensure the cruise industry is as vigilant as it can be in keeping the disease off its cruise ships -- even as none of its member lines have reported as much as one case. "It's important for us to reduce substantially the possibility of any of our passengers coming into contact with the SARS illness while onboard our cruise ships," Crye says. "I hope travelers will appreciate the substantial effort the industry is taking. And, clearly, to take the time to understand there is nothing scary or frightening within those guidelines." Crye also notes that cruise lines are free to embellish on the ICCL policy, which he describes as a "living document" that will change as necessary. Indeed, some have gone beyond, whether it's requiring temperature checks from folks who flew to ports from Toronto or banning Toronto-based travelers altogether. The full list of ICCL's policies can be found at its website -- www.cruising.org.