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Luxury cruise line vows changes after ship fails CDC inspection

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The Silver Shadow was built in 2000 and is registered in the Bahamas.Photo courtesy of Silversea Cruises

A luxury cruise line has fired some of its employees and is reassuring passengers that it’s committed to the “highest possible standards of food hygiene” after CDC inspectors found trolleys loaded with food and pots and pans hidden in crew cabins.

The incident, on board the Silver Shadow, resulted in the ship receiving an unsatisfactory score from the CDC Vessel Sanitation Program.

Monaco-based Silversea Cruises — which owns the ship and bills its voyages as “The Ultimate Luxury Cruise Vacation” — is calling the episode an extremely uncommon occurrence, but critics say such incidents happen on cruise ships far more often than the public realizes.

CDC inspectors boarded the Silver Shadow during an unannounced inspection last month and found a number of violations, including “an organized effort” to hide more than 15 full trolleys of “cooked foods, milk, raw meats, pasteurized eggs, cheeses of all types, baking goods, raw fruits, raw vegetables,” as well as pans, dishware and utensils in crew member cabins in order to avoid inspection by VSP staff, according to the government report.

Inspectors discarded most of the food and poured concentrated chlorine liquid over the waste to make sure it would not be used again. The ship was given a score of 82. A grade of 85 or lower is considered not satisfactory.

In a statement posted on its website Thursday, Silversea Cruises said the impromptu visit happened at the end of the breakfast period. When the galley staff heard that inspectors were on board, they tried to quickly remove all trolleys and any items not in the fridges and place them in cabins out of the way, the company said.

“It goes without saying that such practices are against company policy and should not have happened,” said Enzo Visone, CEO of Silversea Cruises.

“All food found in the cabins was destroyed and under no circumstances was improperly stored food served to any guests. … Steps have been taken to ensure that the standards of food hygiene, in particular, are of the highest order.”

In a post on its Facebook page, the cruise line also said it has assigned a “sanitation specialist consultant” to travel on board the Silver Shadow and that the individuals responsible are no longer with the company.

Hide and seek
But Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime lawyer who reported the Silver Shadow’s low grade on his blog, said the “hide and seek” game on board cruise ships happens routinely.

Crew members tell him they’re exhausted and don’t have time clean the huge pots and pans used to cook meals for hundreds of passengers, and many cruise lines know they don’t have the resources to get everything clean to pass a CDC inspection, so they place the dirty pots and pans out of sight – often in crew cabins, Walker said.

“Do I think this is an isolated event? I certainly don’t,” Walker said.

“A failed CDC score is a kiss of death for a cruise ship. The (cruise lines) very closely monitor not so much whether the ships are being cleaned adequately but whether those ships pass their CDC inspections.”

Crew members who worked on the Silver Shadow complained of “disgusting conditions” on board the ship and sent him photos of the incidents months ago, Walker said, adding that he encouraged them to forward the photos to the CDC.

The CDC is aware of photographs in the case, but spokeswoman Bernadette Burden couldn’t provide details about what they showed.

“That was not what prompted the inspection,” Burden said. “We conduct two random, unannounced inspections yearly for vessels and this was one of those inspections.”

The Silver Shadow was built in 2000 and is registered in the Bahamas. The cruise line touts its luxury touches, including ocean-view suites, butler service and Italian marble bathrooms.