Thu. Dec 2nd, 2021

The cruise ship industry is facing calls for more regulation to prevent infectious disease spreading, after passengers were left stranded on board vessels following the outbreak of COVID-19 last year.

Cruise liners were badly hit at the start of the pandemic in 2020 when they were dubbed “floating petri dishes” by the media after soaring cases prevented them from docking at many ports or passengers being allowed to leave.

The Grand Princess vessel, owned by Princess Cruises, was stuck off the coast of San Francisco for several days in early March when at least 21 people on the ship tested positive for COVID-19.

The MSC Orchestra in Venice in June
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The MSC Orchestra in Venice in June after being grounded during the COVID-19 pandemic

And at least 28 people died and more than 800 were infected after the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney in March 2020.

The £150 billion cruise industry is now starting to rebuild itself as restrictions are slowly easing, but rules including social distancing, mask wearing and using hand sanitiser are all set to stay in place.

But there are still some concerns from academics who have warned cruise ships could still be a potential source of health risks to passengers, staff and people who live near the ports where the ships dock.

The international research team called for “more monitoring” after using evidence from more than 200 research papers on the health of people and the environment in different oceans and seas around the world.

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Anger in Venice as cruise ship arrives

Professor Lora Fleming, of the University of Exeter, said: “Cruise tourism was rapidly expanding pre-COVID-19, and our research shows it causes major impacts on the environment and on human health and wellbeing.

“We need much better monitoring to generate more robust data for the true picture of these impacts.

“Without new and strictly enforced national and international standardised rules, the cruise industry is likely to continue causing these serious health and environmental hazards.”

The research also found passenger and staff heath appeared to be affected by the noise and air pollution from the ships.

The pollution also damaged the oceans as well as fragile habitats and wildlife, it found.

The MSC Virtuosa was set to dock in Scotland for half a day
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The cruise industry is being urged to bring in more regulation to prevent infectious diseases spreading

First author Dr Josep Lloret, of the University of Girona, said: “Our paper highlights that cruising is a prime example of how the fates of our health and our environments are intertwined.

“Up until now, most studies have looked at aspects of this in isolation.

“Our review is the most comprehensive to date to combine these research fields and take a holistic view of how cruising damages our environments and our health.

“We now need global legislation to minimise damage on both our oceans and our health.”

Co-author Dr Hrvoje Caric, of the Institute for Tourism in Croatia, added: “We’ve long known that cruise ships cause damage to the environment. However, it’s hugely important to incorporate the impact on human health into that picture.”

The article, Environmental and Human Health Impacts of Cruise Tourism: A Review, was published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin journal.

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