We are committed to creating a safe and healthy environment where our guests can enjoy themselves and our employees can thrive. This commitment extends to our shoreside facilities, ships and private destinations, as well as seaport terminals and ports-of-call worldwide.
As with most cases, when medical emergencies arise onboard our ships it is managed by a team. That team consist of the ship’s captain, the Coast Guard, whether U.S. or of another country and the ship’s medical team.
When a medical emergency is urgent and calls for airlifting, no single person has the authority to order a medical evacuation at sea. First the onboard physician declares the medical emergency with the ship’s captain, who provides strategic information to the Coast Guard. From that point, the Coast Guard either approves the airlift based on a review of the patient’s condition or strategic factors such as weather, or denies the request.
Airlifting is generally reserved for unstable situations such angina, heart attacks, hemorrhaging or if they have a major trauma. The priority is to stabilize the patient before being transported to a land-based medical facility as the available space inside a rescue helicopter is tight.
That procedure is carefully orchestrated in a three-part, 23-point USCG directive beginning with how to properly request helicopter assistance to preparing the patient for hoisting from ship’s deck to chopper.
Concurrently, the captain takes the ship as close to shore and a hospital as possible within the time available. Once the helicopter reaches the ship, which ideally will be maintaining an easy speed with any wind on the port bow, it approaches from behind on the port side. While medical evacuation at sea is not easy, we have a good grasp on what we can and can’t do and we have great cooperation from the Coast Guard.
“Wash your hands…” It’s become a catchy jingle – with crewmembers and guests alike humming it as they stroll across the decks our ships. And while everyone loves a good jingle, this one was tasked with an important job – instilling the basics of a healthy and safe environment to our guests.
As a cruise line, the health and safety of our guests is always paramount. Gastrointestinal illnesses such as norovirus – which can thrive in a closed environment – can become a larger problem when not properly addressed. For us, that means vigorous onboard cleaning and sanitation procedures. This past year, we also introduced the catchy “Wash Your Hands” video across the fleet. The video aims to inform guests that the most effective way to prevent illness is to wash their hands. In line with that knowledge, we installed hand-washing stations near main food venues, like the Windjammer buffet onboard our newest ships – The Quantum-class.
Although current sanitation practices are effective – we’ve seen a drop in norovirus cases – we’ve begun piloting groundbreaking Electro Chemical Activation technology, which uses only food grade salt and water for sanitation. We also have ordered 350 special commercial sprayers, specially designed for cruise ships and produced by ByoPlanet International, at cost of $2 million to combat norovirus and other illnesses.
In truth, Americans have a 1-in-15 chance of getting sick from norovirus on land, but only a 1-in-12,000 chance on a cruise ship – and that has much to do with the preventative measures taken by cruise lines.
Noroviruses can linger on surfaces for an extended period of time. To combat this, entire ships are disinfected between voyages, creating a “sanitation barrier” to ensure that any norovirus particles do not carry over to the cruise ship’s next voyage. Several times a day while at sea, crew members sanitize surfaces where germs are easily spread, including door handles, handrails and elevator buttons.
If a norovirus outbreak is even suspected, more crew members are brought in to help clean the ship with electrostatic sprayers, which help sanitizer solutions adhere to common surfaces and get into harder-to-reach places on the ship. We also perform random inspections of shore excursions offering food and beverage and test our water systems 15 times more often than what is required by law.
To guide industry solutions, we actively participate in our industry’s Gastrointestinal Illness Task Force to share best practices across cruise lines and work with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss how to combat norovirus more effectively.
It is our responsibility to take every possible step to protect our guests and employees, so we will continue to emphasize preventative measures and look at new technologies that might aid in the fight against illnesses, including hands-free bathroom doors; antimicrobial copper-alloy handrails that kill norovirus on contact; and ultraviolet light, which is known to be highly effective in killing norovirus.
For the first time in its 155-year history, the Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA) has chosen a cruise ship as the recipient of its prestigious Maritime Safety Award.
The annual award, recognizing “an individual, company or organization which has made a significant technological contribution to improving maritime safety,” was presented to Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. for the design and implementation of an integrated Safety Command Center (SCC) onboard Quantum of the Seas.
The SCC breaks down incident response, physically and functionally, into a collection of “pods,” each with its own specialty, which can act separately or as part of an integrated response as each incident requires.
In nominating RCL for the award, professors Dracos Vassalos and Tom Allan – both RINA fellows who sit on the RCL Maritime Safety Advisory Board – said the SCC addresses a gap in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).
In the decades that followed its creation in 1914, SOLAS mostly addressed ship fires and their prevention, detection and extinguishing. Onboard “safety centers” came to be after the International Maritime Organization singled out the problem of an emergency distracting the ship’s master from safely navigating the ship.
But “when Safety Centers were introduced, particularly in the cruise ship industry, the whole idea seemed like an afterthought without proper analysis of the needs, proper allocation of resources and proper integration of the effort to offer seamless operation and support,” Vassalos and Allan wrote.
The SCC’s guiding principle, “Partition to understand and integrate to solve,” resulted in a design that includes:
This configuration provides dedicated spaces for the various tasks that may be required by a safety incident, all funneling to a command space where the responders can gather, share damage assessments, view video evidence and drawings of affected areas and anything else required of a true incident command center from the start of the trouble until the ship returns to port.
Nothing is more important to us than the safety and security of our guests and crew, so we set high standards for ourselves – and on the most important subjects, we look to experts for guidance. This year, we worked with RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the U.S., and became the first corporation certified for compliance with the new standards. RAINN’s mission is to educate the public, as well as the private sector, about prevention of rape and other forms of sexual violence. Its outreach efforts to communities, college campuses and entertainment venues educate an estimated 120 million Americans each year about sexual assault, and it spearheads national efforts to improve victim services and ensure prosecution of offenders.
RAINN’s stamp of approval for RCL followed a highly detailed inspection and analysis of onboard plans and practices by Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. Examiners covered 10 key areas for compliance, including general prevention efforts; victim care and mental health services; medical service and supply; training of general crew, medical and security staff; hiring guidelines; physical ship security; and prospective passenger screening.
In addition to reviewing our written plans and policies, RAINN inspectors also conducted onboard staff interviews and spent about four months reviewing more than 2,000 pages of RCL policies, protocols and staff training materials for sexual assault prevention and response. Onsite inspections and audits were conducted at our headquarters and ships, and some 200 onboard interviews were conducted with crew members to ensure their full understanding and implementation of RCL policies.
The work was completed in 2015, and compliance certification will remain in effect until summer 2017, when RAINN will re-examine our operations to ensure continued compliance.