Scientology Cruise Ship Quarantined in St. Lucia After Case of Measles Confirmed on Board
A cruise ship belonging to the Church of Scientology remains quarantined in the Caribbean port of St. Lucia after a passenger tested positive for measles.
The ship’s 300 passengers have been unable to disembark since Monday after a female crew member was confirmed to have the highly contagious disease, NBC News reports.
St. Lucia’s chief medical officer Dr. Merlene Fredericks-James said in a statement that the case is currently being investigated.
“We got information early this morning through two reputable sources that there was a confirmed case of measles on board a cruise ship which visited our island,” she said. “As per the Quarantine Act, the Public Health Act, and after internal discussions, as well as discussions with external agencies such as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), we thought it prudent that we quarantine the ship, so no one was allowed to leave.”
The PAHO confirmed to PEOPLE that it has been informed about the ship’s dilemma, but that the final decision to quarantine it was made by the government.
Fredericks-James said officials made that decision because of the highly contagious nature of the disease, which spreads through coughing and sneezing. She also encouraged St. Lucians to get themselves and their children vaccinated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, measles is so contagious that if just one person has it, up to 90 percent of people around that person will also become infected if not protected.
St. Lucia Coast Guard Sgt. Victor Theodore identified the ship as the Freewinds to NBC News, a 440-foot cruise ship owned and operated by the Church of Scientology.
The church’s website says the Freewinds’ home port is Curaçao, and that it’s home to the Flag Ship Service Organization, a religious retreat that offers “spiritual counseling.”
“The Freewinds provides a safe, aesthetic, distraction-free environment appropriate for ministration of this profoundly spiritual level of auditing,” the site says. “To a Scientologist, boarding the Freewinds for New OT VIII is the pinnacle of a deeply spiritual journey. Years of training and auditing have brought him to this ultimate point.”
The church did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Officials told NBC News that the Freewinds is scheduled to leave St. Lucia at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, while Fredericks-James said authorities have “no jurisdiction” over where it heads to next.
The Church of Scientology says its members “rely on the advice and treatment of medical doctors,” and seek conventional treatments for illnesses and injuries, according to its website.
Rev. John Carmichael, president of the Church of Scientology in New York, told BeliefNet.com in 2006 that the church does not have any “precepts or strictures” regarding vaccinations as a religious principle.
“Scientologists are pretty independent people, though I will say this: they tend to do a little more research, perhaps, on the effect of various medical procedures or whatever,” he said. “They make their own decisions, but those aren’t decisions that the church tries to influence in any way.”
The CDC urges anyone traveling internationally to get vaccinated against measles, which can eventually lead to pneumonia, encephalitis and death.
Despite being declared eliminated in 2000, measles has seen a resurgence in recent months, with 704 individual cases confirmed this year through April 26 in 22 different states – the most reported in the U.S. since 1994, according to the CDC.
Measles outbreaks, which the CDC defines as three or more cases, are currently ongoing in New York, Michigan, New Jersey, California, Georgia and Maryland, and many are linked to people traveling abroad to places like Israel and the Philippines, where measles outbreaks are occurring.
The cruise ship’s quarantine came just one day after a JetBlue plane was quarantined at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport after a case of measles was suspected on board.
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