Depending on what you read, between 600 and 1,000 people were ill on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. Speculation about the cause ranged from rough waters to norovirus.
Royal Caribbean seems to be denying the possibility of norovirus, a highly contagious virus spread by infected food, people, or surfaces. In one statement, a spokesperson explained that someone was on a stretcher for a "reason unrelated to norovirus."
In another statement to CBS News, company spokesperson Julie Benson said, "The ship came in early to beat the closure of the port and not because of norovirus." She also said, "We have been really successful at stopping the spread of the norovirus onboard," and "The pattern suggests the illness was brought on board by passengers."
On his Cruise Law News blog, Jim Walker accuses Royal Caribbean of covering up the truth:
"Ms. Benson, of course, is not an epidemiologist of course. She has no medical or scientific education or training. Princess Cruises didn't fly a team of epidemiologists into the Gulf of Mexico and lower them down from a helicopter to the cruise ship to conduct tests and make a analysis.
"Ms. Benson's comments, in my assessment, are a PR stunt. This is right out of the cruise industry's playbook of how to manage a crisis when a cruise ship sickness epidemic breaks out. Rule number 1: Blame the Passengers!
"Cruise lines like Princess don't want the public to think that their cruise ships or crew members are the problem. To divert attention from the possibility of bad food or contaminated water or sick crew members, the cruise lines point the finger at their customers and accuse them of bring the virus aboard or having poor hygiene.
"But could it be bad hygiene of the crew? The CDC has found crew working while ill before. That's why the public has to rely on the education and experience of the experts and not PR cruise line people.
"Yesterday we wrote that there were passengers sickened during the last cruise. Did the ship clean up the contaminated surfaces and test the food and water after the last puke fest? How many people were sick last week? Perhaps Princess will tell us? Perhaps not."
The company's PR twitter feed responded to at least one follower:
But the main company twitter feed has been surprisingly quiet, with only one tweet about the ship's status:
Royal Caribbean did post two stories on its blog acknowledging norovirus but not the cause.
- Assess Royal Caribbean's communications so far. How well is the company managing this crisis?
- What do you expect to happen next? What should be Royal Caribbean's next communication?
- What else should the company be tweeting during this time? Write a few tweets that could have been posted between January 25 and 31?