Are Cruises Safe?

Are Cruises Safe?

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Every year, millions of people across the world look for travel options, and some turn to cruises. But are cruises safe? The odds of dying on a cruise ship are slim to none — well, roughly 1 out of 6.25 million. So in that aspect they are considered “safe”. However, there is a lot more to consider when you’re talking about the safety of yourself, your family, and those around you.

Cruises are equipped with staff and safety equipment to keep you safe at sea. But there are some things that cruises just can’t get a handle on — including gastrointestinal diseases, virus outbreaks, and pollution. 

Is it safe to cruise?

We’ll be honest when we tell you that the ships floating on the seas are designed and built to keep you afloat. Beyond sturdy construction, guests can feel comfortable knowing there are lifeboats, life preservers, and life rafts for everyone on board. And with sophisticated technology there are ways to now move passengers away from the ship rapidly if needed. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to other mishaps, the odds could be stacked against you. 

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Cruise line illness outbreaks

Passengers on cruise ships are packed tightly into these floating cities. Thousands of people on board are all kept in close quarters, all eat at the same restaurants, and attend many of the same on-board entertainment options. Because of this, gastrointestinal illnesses and viruses spread like wildfire. Despite sanitation procedures, there are numerous outbreaks year after year on every cruise line. There’s no way to avoid it. 

Some of the worst cruise illness outbreaks include:

  • The COVID-19 Pandemic
    • Despite putting procedures in place for testing and vaccinations, COVID-19 spread rapidly onboard cruise ships. It was so bad that the CDC first shut the cruise industry down and then, more recently, publicly warned that all people — vaccinated or not — avoid cruise ships. Passengers on various cruise ships were trapped at sea. Others were trapped in isolation — comparing it to a dungeon. Some passengers were forced off the ships into temporary “quarantine hotels”. Thousands of people contracted the virus while on cruise ships and hundreds died. Some of these passengers were vegetarians and were forced to decide between eating meat or starving because the “hotels” were not prepared for different dietary needs. 
    • Passengers weren’t the only ones impacted. Crew members were also forced to stay onboard in tiny confines — sometimes without even getting paid. Even after guests went home, crew members were stuck at sea for months. As the struggled with feeling the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak and feeling like unimportant cargo, numerous crew members committed suicide.
  • Norovirus Outbreaks
    • Norovirus is a nasty gastrointestinal bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea. It spreads rapidly through cruises. In January 2019, a cruise with over 9,000 passengers had to return earlier than scheduled because a high number of guests and crew members came down with Norovirus. And that’s not the first time a cruise has been cut short for this gastrointestinal bug. In 2014 almost 700 crew members and passengers became ill and had to return to port. Another cruise that same year sickened 630 passengers. 

Dangers of cruise ships

Getting sick on a cruise ship is just one danger that passengers face. While these are less likely to happen, passengers might face:

  • Fire
    • Fires in the engine room or kitchens can cause damage to the ships and put passengers’ health at risk. For example, if a fire starts inside the boiler room, the smoke from it can spread through the ventilation system which increases the risk of smoke inhalation.
    • In fact, just a few years ago the Carnival Triumph ship had an engine fire and left passengers stranded on the ship. It was dubbed the “cruise from hell” with passengers had no access to electricity, bathroom facilities would not flush, and an intense heat that intensified the smell of the collected human waste onboard.
  • Drowning
    • Pools, slides, hot tubs, wave pools, and other water features are commonly found on cruise ships. And many of these areas do not have lifeguards on duty. This puts guests at higher risk of drowning — especially children and those who have consumed excessive alcohol.
  • Falling Overboard
    • The chances to fall overboard are slim if you’re cautious, but they are one of the most obvious hazards to cruising. Balconies, ramps, and other design elements increase your chances of falling from great heights.
  • Ship is Grounded
    • When a boat runs aground, it is stuck on the bottom — not deep enough to steer away from the shore. While this is rare, in 2012 a cruise ship ran aground and 32 people were killed and numerous others were injured. The ship stayed lying on its side for years before it was finally removed. 
  • Collisions
    • Another rare but dangerous risk of cruising is cruise ship collisions — we see you Titanic! But icebergs aren’t the only risk of collision. Ships can collide into underwater debris, other ships, barges, and even whales. Depending on the severity of the collision, passengers can be injured and even die. 

But passengers aren’t the only ones who are impacted by cruise ships. Port communities and wildlife also are at risk because of the dangers of cruise ships. These floating cities are a toxic nightmare for everyone and everything in their path. 

The worst cruise lines

Cruises harm public health and the environment. But some are worse offenders than others. Every year, Friends of the Earth works tirelessly to put together our Cruise Ship Report Card. In 2021 we compared 18 major cruise lines and 202 of their ships to give you insight into which are the worst cruise lines for the environment, public health, passengers, crew, and for the climate. 

Things to know before going on a cruise

Before going on a cruise, you should take a long look at whether or not a cruise is the vacation you envisioned for yourself and your family. Understand the risks that cruises pose to:

  • Yourself
  • Other passengers
  • Crew members
  • Coastal communities
  • Marine wildlife
  • The climate

You should also assess your personal safety. Are the risks of getting sick on a cruise worth the fun you think you’ll have? Are the close quarters worth days of potential vomiting and diarrhea? Is the environmental impact of your cruise worth it? No one can answer these questions but you. However, there are green travel options that you could explore that are friendly to the planet, and to your health! We recommend doing a little more research before deciding to take a cruise, you might be surprised with all the fun options that are available for your next vacation. 

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