What Failed Safety Inspections Mean for Cruise Ship Passengers and Crew

Thousands of people make reservations on cruise ships every year, with anticipation for adventure, onboard activities, great food, and fun for all ages.  If you are one of the many planning to take a cruise this year, do you know what failed cruise ship safety inspections mean for cruise ship passengers and crew? You are not alone!

Most people don’t really know what occurs during safety inspections, or what the results are.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program (CDC-VSP) is helping consumers and cruise ship crew members better understand what safety risks exist, and how to prevent accidents and injuries.  Let’s take a closer look.

Cruise Ship Inspection Concerns

According to the CDC, 2017 saw more cruise ships fail inspections than any other year on record (since the CDC began inspection protocols).  These failures are not limited to small cruise ship companies, but include the most popular carriers, including Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian.

Carnival, the largest cruise line in the world, is facing the most criticism after five ships failed inspection in 2017.  Several others have already failed this year.  In January 2018, Carnival Liberty failed an inspection with a score of 80, while Carnival Vista scored an 88.  In February 2018, Carnival Ecstasy scored an 87.

What Failed Safety Inspections Mean for Cruise Ship Passengers and Crew

The CDC conducts inspections of cruise ship safety, generally at the request (and paid for) by the cruise line.  These inspections typically take place twice a year, and occur at random docks and ports.  The ships chosen for inspection are also random.  The inspection scores the ship on a 100-point scale.  Any score below 85 is considered a failing score.

Some of the elements of inspections include:

  • Examination of the ship medical center.
  • Review of ship medical logs to ensure accurate record-keeping and proper documentation of gastrointestinal illnesses like Norovirus.
  • Review of the ships procedures for potable water, including maintaining supplies and distribution.
  • Review of filtration and disinfection systems in swimming pools and jacuzzis.
  • Review of sanitation and disinfection systems in food storage, service areas, nurseries and kids’ clubs, and accommodations.
  • Examination of ship heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems.

What is concerning for cruise ship crew members and consumers is the fact that inspections are focused on operations and sanitation, but leave out some very important risk factors that should be addressed to ensure safety.  For example, safety inspections do not include a check of safety measures including:

  • Adequate lighting
  • Properly maintained and lit staircases
  • Slippery surfaces
  • Railing height and stability concerns

Of course, operations and sanitation is an important part of maintaining a healthy and safe environment, but on a cruise ship, those are two of many elements that may present risks.  Safety concerns such as fire safety, electrical, and technical problems are overseen by the U.S.  Coast Guard, but still, there is little done to address safety risks onboard.

To learn more about cruise ship safety and maritime rights, contact us to speak with a maritime injury attorney today!

Is There Accountability for Failed Inspections?

Another element of concern is the fact that there is a lack of accountability among cruise ship companies.  The consequences for failing a safety inspection are often mild and limited.  The most severe consequence for failing a safety inspection is being issued a “no-sail” order, which identifies the ship as an “imminent public health risk”, and requires it be docked until the dangers have been resolved.

A “no-sail” order is rarely issued, regardless of how badly a ship performed, or failed to perform, on an inspection.  There are no civil or criminal penalties for failing a safety inspection.  Some in the legal industry believe there needs to be a serious change, with legislative initiatives aimed at improving accountability and implementing real consequences for failed inspections.

How Safe are Cruise Ships?

Before finalizing your cruise plans, consider checking the CDC’s website to review inspection information for the ships you are considering.  Their “Green Sheet” is a good way of reviewing the most popular ships and their recent scores.  You can also browse many topics on the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program website.

One of the most common problems with cruise ship safety is gastrointestinal illnesses like Gastroenteritis and Norovirus.  Gastrointestinal illnesses spread easily and quickly, and can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or by coming in contact with infected surfaces.  On a cruise ship, hundreds of people come into contact with the same handrails, elevators, and food or drink areas.  Without proper disinfection and sanitation procedures, viruses can quickly get out of hand.

As for safety issues like railings, slippery surfaces, and adequate lighting, until there is more being done to address these potential safety risks, cruise ship passengers and crew members are urged to be aware and use caution.  Consider the following safety tips:

  • Review ship rules carefully before venturing out of your cabin
  • Always obey signage and warnings when near railings or ship equipment
  • Follow safety rules at all times
  • Do not share food or drink with strangers
  • Keep your cabin locked at all times
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Never leave children unattended at pool areas
  • If you are drinking alcohol, be extra cautious on stairs, near pools, or near railings

You may not have control over how well a ship is maintained, or how well others follow protocols, but you can be aware and take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Have Questions about Cruise Ship Safety?

Learn more about maritime attorneys. Our maritime injury attorneys can help you understand your legal rights and what options you have if you have been injured on a cruise ship.  Fill out our online form for a free injury consultation.



  • https://www.law.com/dailybusinessreview/2018/03/30/health-safety-inspection-failures-on-cruise-ships-and-what-it-means-for-consumers-industry/
  • https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/related.htm
  • https://www.cruisecritic.com/articles.cfm?ID=241