The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is discontinuing its routine semi-annual inspections as of April 30. A system of self-inspection will be implemented in their place.
Cruise lines will still be required to report any serious outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease, and the CDC will inspect any ship following such a report. The CDC will also inspect new, renovated or repositioned vessels when they begin to sail from U.S. ports, as well as ships that are subjects of passenger complaints. Consumers will be able to receive detailed reports of these inspections.
According to the CDC, the inspections are no longer necessary because "of the heightened awareness of and attention to shipboard sanitation on the part of both the international cruise ship industry and the travelling public."
However, John Yashuk, chief of the vessel sanitation inspection program in Miami reported that the number of ships that have passed inspection has dropped from 70 percent to 60 percent since last year. According to the latest report, 26 out of 66 ships - approximately 30 percent - failed to meet CDC standards.
Citing this 30 percent failure rate, the New York State Attorney General expressed dismay over the CDC's decision and noted there was still room for improvement.
Several cruise line hotel and catering executives and suppliers expressed disappointment, and said the inspection program was very valuable in maintaining high industry standards.
John Reurs, chairman of the International Committee of Passenger Lines said that the CDC had reached its decision on its own initiative, while considering if any changes were necessary.
"The decision to discontinue the inspections came as a complete surprise, but it is really a logical development," he said. "The program was instituted as a voluntary, cooperative program, and was really based on self-inspection all along."
Reurs added that the CDC is still responsible for surveillance, and can inspect the vessels at any time. Travel agents reactions to the announcement were mixed.
"The decision bothers me a bit because there will be some lines that will try to get away with things. It will also make it harder to keep track of which ships are up to standards " said Jay Musgrove of Rainbow Travel.
Guiliano Lorenzani of Ambassador Travel said, "the decision is unfortunate because the inspections helped to keep standards up. However I don't think it will matter much because clients base their decision on other things."
"Oh my God, they can't do that!" was the reaction from Raul Aorin of U.S. Travel Consultants. "There should be someone on top of the cruise lines, just as there are people watching the airlines."
Warren Nordlay, president of Dayton Travel is not "particularly disturbed about the decision."
"I always felt that the inspectors are nit-pickers. I think that the marketplace will determine the standards, and word will get out about the ships that deteriorate," he said.
Jay Clarke, travel editor of the Miami Herald said he "regretted" the decision.
According to Reurs, the industry is now waiting for the CDC to release its standards for self-inspection.
"Then we will see if there is the need for arm's-length surveillance on top of that," he said.