Cruise ship carrying possible Ebola victim missed planned Mexican stop

The Carnival Magic cruise ship. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
The Carnival Magic cruise ship. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Tourists enjoy a ride on a catamaran as cruise ship Carnival Magic is seen near the shores of Cozumel on Oct 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Tourists enjoy a ride on a catamaran as cruise ship Carnival Magic is seen near the shores of Cozumel on Oct 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Victoria Cavaliere - Thousands of passengers on a week-long Caribbean cruise holiday had to miss a planned stop in Cozumel, Mexico, because of fears their cruise ship may be carrying an Ebola victim.

The ship is carrying a lab supervisor from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas - the epicentre of the Ebola crisis in the United States. She and her husband boarded the ship in Galveston on Oct 12 for a seven-night cruise.

She did not have direct contact with now deceased Liberian patient Thomas Eric Duncan at the Dallas hospital but could have processed his bodily fluids 21 days ago, US officials said.

The crew of the Carnival Magic had requested that she be airlifted from Belize back to the US, but the government of Belize refused, saying: "The passenger never set foot in Belize. When even the smallest doubt remains, we will ensure the health and safety of the Belizean people." All passengers except the woman and her husband were allowed to disembark on Thursday.

The ship then sailed on to Mexico, but authorities in the port of Cozumel also refused to allow her to reach the waiting airlift - and the vessel was not allowed into port.

A Mexican port authority official said the Carnival Magic cruise ship was denied clearance to avoid any possible risk from Ebola. "It is the first time that this has happened, and it was decided the ship should not dock as a preventative measure against Ebola," Mr Erce Barron, port authority director in Quintana Roo, told Reuters.

The cruise company have offered compensation of US$200 per person and a 50 per cent discount on future cruises, as an apology for missing the Mexican stop, reported The Telegraph.

The US Centers for Disease Control contacted the cruise operator on Wednesday to informer it that a passenger on the ship worked as a lab supervisor at the hospital where Duncan was treated. Mr Duncan, 42, died on Oct 8, four days before the ship sailed.

The hospital worker left the country before being notified of the CDC's updated requirement for active monitoring, US government officials said on Friday. When the American Centre for Disease Control and Protection updated their requirement for monitoring of anyone who had been in contact with the virus, on October 15, she decided to lock herself in her room with her husband.

The health care worker remained in self-quarantine and was not ill, Ms Aly Bello-Cabreriza, a spokeswoman for the parent company Carnival Cruise Lines.

"Regular debarkation will take place," she said. "The lab worker continues to show no symptoms."

The Telegraph newspaper reported that fear was spreading on the ship.

Passenger Jon Malone was quoted as saying by the Telegraph said there was "utter panic" on board, adding: "People are scared. I've seen people crying. You're using the same buffet line as someone else, the same waiters, the folks that clean the state rooms.

"If someone was cleaning their state room and cleaned yours right after, the exposure that you have there to elevators...it's very tight quarters and a lot of interaction.

"It's really difficult to control any type of virus that's on a cruise ship. It's like a floating petri dish. It spreads very rapidly. They're cleaning elevators. I've seen people with pink liquid cleaning the bar area and the handrails."

One passenger, who gave his name as Michael, was able to get through to CNN by telephone. He said: "Obviously our concern is where is this person is on the ship and what kind of set up do they have to care for them? I can't imagine it's a completely quarantined area. They have not told us at all where the person is.

The ship -- which carries 3,690 passengers and up to 1,367 crew -- will return to Galveston, Texas, on Sunday. The US Coast Guard said on Saturday that one of its helicopters flew to the ship and received samples from the lab worker. The samples are being tested for Ebola.

Concerns about Ebola in the United States have intensified after two nurses from the Dallas hospital who cared for Duncan contracted the virus, which has killed nearly 4,500 people, mostly in West Africa. The White House is facing sharp criticism from US lawmakers over its efforts to contain the disease.

On Thursday, Frontier Airlines said six crew members were placed on paid leave for 21 days "out of an abundance of caution," after learning that a nurse who had treated Duncan in Dallas may have been symptomatic when she flew on the airline earlier this week.