As an accident attorney who sues cruise ships for people who are injured during a cruise, I would like to share some important and potentially life-saving information with anyone thinking about taking your family on a holiday cruise this season: You should see how high your cruise ship scores on safety inspections.

Many cruise ship passengers do not know that the United States government requires any ship that sails out of a U.S. port be subjected to twice-yearly spot inspections. Cruise ships that sail outside the United States for prolonged periods will be inspected almost immediately upon return.


Each cruise ship is then rated on a 100-point scale based upon detailed criteria. Points are deducted for violations deemed to be of significance to public health. An 85 or below is considered a failing score. Points and the scores are then posted on the government website by cruise line and by cruise ship.

The 44 areas of inspection are always checked while the cruise ship is docked in a United States port. Cruise ship owners are forced to pay a fee to the CDC for the inspection based upon the size of the ship and whether or not re-inspections are required. The cost can range from $1400 to $18,000 for an inspection on a mega cruise ship. Consultations for renovations and new-ship plan reviews are provided for free.

The inspections are performed by one-to-four people, depending on the size of the cruise ship. At the end each inspection, VSP inspectors discuss inspection violations and give the ship’s owners a draft of the inspection report; two weeks later the VSP will send the final copy of the inspection report to the ship’s cruise line and post the results on its website. I gather they do this to give the cruise line an opportunity to correct the worse problems before the information is made public. I disagree with this approach as it seems designed to protect the cruise lines at the expense of the consumer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), operating under the authority of the Public Health Service Act, is responsible for inspecting cruise ships in order to prevent and control the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses like the norovirus. It does this through The Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP).

The VSP includes both periodic and surprise operational sanitation inspections, as well as monitoring and investigating GI illness outbreaks. One of the best things the VSP does is provide cruise lines and cruise ship employees with training on the latest public health information in order to prevent the spread of ship-borne illnesses, based on the FDA Food Code and the World Health Organization’s Guide to Ship Sanitation. The VSP’s jurisdiction includes any cruise ship carrying 13 or more passengers, with a foreign itinerary and at least at least one U.S. Port.


Ships are required to address violations on the spot although often the repair is more complicated and can take weeks to resolve. There are, however, situations when the violations are so serious that they pose an immediate health risk to passengers. In those situations, the CDC can “recommend” that the ship be “grounded” until it meets the guidelines. Severe violations include . . .

  • Inability to provide potable drinking water
  • Inability to maintain food within safe temperatures
  • Inadequate sanitizing equipment
  • Inability to properly dispose of waste
  • An ongoing outbreak that may subject newly arriving passengers to the disease


The CDC inspects various high-risk areas of a cruise ship to verify that appropriate documentation and preventative methods are being utilized. These areas include the medical facilities, water storage systems, swimming pools and Jacuzzis, galleys and dining rooms, Kids’ Clubs, laundry and hotel services, air conditioning and ventilations systems, and common areas.


Carnival is the largest cruise line in the world, and this year alone several of its ships scored 100 on inspections. However, not all Carnival ships are maintained with the same degree of care. For example, in March 2015 the Carnival Valor scored a disgusting 87 out of 100 when inspectors found a variety of violations during a spot inspection performed while the ship was in port. Inspectors noted problems in the dining rooms, kitchen, wine cellar, buffet, and gift shop.

What was most disturbing was the number of problems that had apparently been ongoing. In comparison, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas scored a surprisingly low 92 when it was inspected at about the same time as Carnival’s Valor. The infractions ranged from a dirty toilet to passengers refilling their personal water bottles and touching the nozzle with the bottle at the same place where other passengers were filling water glasses.

The difference is that RCCL complied with the CDC requirements and made a number of significant efforts to correct the violations during the actual inspections and has filed its corrective report on line. As of today, nearly nine months later, Carnival has yet to submit to the CDC the required corrective action report, which leads me to believe that the problems may not yet have been addressed.

Our maritime accident lawyers have nearly 50 years of combined legal experience representing passengers from around the world who have been involved in an accident during a cruise. If you have slipped, tripped, fallen, or sustained a serious injury aboard a cruise ship, we recommend that you contact us today for a free initial legal consultation.

Cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, Disney, Holland America, Silverseas, or MSC, and others have enormous resources and talented defense lawyers employed to defeat your claim and deprive you of fair compensation for medical reimbursement, lost wages, lost cruise, and your pain and suffering. Let our years of experience and knowledge help you. Call us today toll-free at 1-966-597-4529 or email us at [email protected].