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Queen Elizabeth 2 Flunks Port Everglades Health Inspection

Jan 15, 2003 | Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel

The Queen Elizabeth 2, the most prestigious cruise ship afloat, failed its most recent inspection by federal health regulators at Port Everglades, despite greater sanitary precautions taken throughout the cruise industry because of recent viral outbreaks.

Inspectors two weeks ago found cockroaches in the ship's kitchen, mold residue on ice makers and plugged-up air-conditioning drains in the child activity center.

The 34-year-old flagship of Cunard Line is on the first leg of its 105-day world cruise. It left Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 7 and is expected to dock next in Los Angeles on Jan. 18.

The sanitary lapses highlighted in the inspection have not led to an outbreak of Norwalk virus, the debilitating gastrointestinal bug that has plagued the cruise industry over the past several months.

Susan McClure, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Vessel Sanitation Program, said there have been cases of stomach illness on the QE2 recently. "But we have not seen reports exceeding 2 percent of total passengers or total crew in these reports," she said.

The Norwalk virus can be spread by food or water contamination, but in recent ship outbreaks the CDC has concluded that person-to-person contact has been to blame.

Inspectors gave the QE2 a grade of 85 after touring the ship on Jan. 3. Ships are graded on a scale of 1 to 100 and grades below 86 are unsatisfactory.

The inspections include a wide variety of items, including chlorine levels in the water, health habits of the crew, the logging and reporting of illness on the ship, food preparation and cleanliness and the level of repair and maintenance on the ship, especially in kitchens, dining areas and bars.

Inspectors deducted points in six areas on the QE2. The most points were subtracted for dishwashers that either didn't work right or weren't hot enough, for mold residue in ice makers and food residue on plates, and for cockroaches observed in the Britannia kitchen.

They also deducted two points for "a large accumulation of standing water" in a heavily corroded drip pan for the air conditioner in the child activity center.

Cunard President Pamela Conover said there were no unusual circumstances that explain the inspection result. "It's unacceptable from our point of view," she said. Worn or malfunctioning equipment cited in the inspection report is being replaced. Asked what's being done about the cockroaches, Conover said: "We're getting rid of them."

The ship may be re-inspected in Los Angeles this weekend.

Health authorities rarely, if ever, block a ship from sailing after a failed inspection. Ships can request re-inspection but are not required to do so. Ship owners are not fined, although they have to pay a second inspection fee if they want to clear their ships' names, which most do.

McClure said ships with a drastic problem, such as a broken refrigerator or water chlorinating system, would get a "no sail recommendation" that could be used to force the ship back to port if it sailed anyway.

Of the about 600 ship inspections the CDC has done in the past two years, only five, including the QE2, have scored "not satisfactory." The other four ships were smaller vessels that sailed for little-known lines and that carried fewer than 300 passengers.

The QE2 carries 1,791 passengers at full capacity. Its black hull and red funnel are hailed around the world as the epitome of class at sea.

The QE2 is unique because it still offers traditional weekly liner service between New York and Southampton, England, during the summer. This year is scheduled to be its last on that run because Cunard expects to launch a successor ship, Queen Mary 2, early next year.

In the winter, the ship offers a four-month world cruise that visits 33 ports on six continents, ending in New York on April 23. The brochure fare for the top suite is $365,999.

The lapse in sanitation on the QE2 came even as it stepped up its sanitary regimen to combat Norwalk virus. Norwalk outbreaks are suspected on at least eight cruise ships since October, the latest sickening more than 100 on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norway on a seven-night cruise that ended Jan. 5.

"We have programs in place to do what we can," Conover said.

Despite QE2's unparalleled reputation, its sanitation record has several blemishes. It previously failed inspection at Port Everglades two years ago when it scored 79, and again in April 1997, when it scored 80.

The aging ship, built in 1969, has been overhauled several times, including a 1994 upgrade that was rushed to completion and led to stories about "exploding toilets" when the plumbing didn't work properly.

Miami-based Carnival Corp., which purchased a majority stake in Cunard in 1998 from the Norwegian/British firm Kvaerner, is spending $800 million on Queen Mary 2, which will be twice as big as the QE2. It is scheduled to arrive in Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 26, 2004, on its maiden voyage from Southampton.

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