Investigation: Health and safety violations on Jacksonville cruise ship

Reports reveal dozens of violations on local cruise ships.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax investigator Ben Becker uncovered dozens of violations aboard the Carnival Ecstasy, the only cruise ship based out of Jacksonville, but it’s not alone when it comes to potential health and safety violations.

"It was terrible for what I paid, really,” said Casey Richardson, who just took a five-day cruise to the Bahamas and the eastern Caribbean.

Becker showed Richardson the Ecstasy’s most recent vessel sanitation program inspection from July 2019. The Ecstasy scored a 94. Anything below 85 out of 100 is failing. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 40 violations, including food temperature issues, soiled kitchen equipment and both live and dead baby roaches.

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“Norovirus is actually the biggest threat passengers will face at sea,” said Rod Sullivan, a maritime attorney. The CDC says it investigates about 12 norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships every year.

The virus can quickly end your vacation by spreading person to person through door handles and elevator buttons.

If you get sick Sullivan says you won’t get the level of care on a cruise ship, you would onshore. “Doctors on cruise ships tend not to have hospital privileges, not specialist, not best in their field,” said Sullivan. But issues with cruise ships go beyond what’s on board to what’s being thrown overboard. A ship traveling for one week with 3,000 passengers and crew can generate more than 200,000 gallons of sewage.

In June 2019, the Department of Justice ordered Carnival to pay a $20 million fine, saying its ships continued to pollute the oceans, despite a felony conviction.

The Carnival Elation was among the ships tagged which were based in Jacksonville in 2017.

The government said the Elation dumped 335,000 gallons of sewage and nearly 6,000 gallons of food waste into the water. As for those 40 violations on the Ecstasy in Jacksonville, Becker emailed Carnival and received this statement:

“The safety and well-being of our guests and crew members is our top priority. Our comprehensive shipboard protocols, especially in food handling and preparation, are of the highest quality and we are always committed to delivering an exceptional experience to our guests.

"Regarding Carnival Ecstasy, the ship was inspected in July 2019 and received a score of 94 which reflects our robust standards and dedicated commitment to our guests’ health and safety and is well above the passing level score of 85. Any deficiencies were quickly addressed with immediate corrective action. We hope this information is helpful. The cruise lines international association also has additional information on the Vessel Sanitation Program that you may find helpful.”

Violations aside, one passenger is ecstatic about another trip on the Ecstasy “Would you go again?” asked Becker. “Absolutely no doubt in my mind planning it now," said a passenger.

Cruise ships go through an unannounced inspection, by the CDC twice a year at every port across the country. All major areas of the ship are inspected including dining rooms, medical facilities, swimming pools, hot tubs, kids’ areas and cabins.

To check cruise ship inspections before heading on board check with the CDC here.