Rat guards for cruise ships, not the Bibby Stockholm

Rat guards for cruise ships, not the Bibby Stockholm

Is the asylum-seekers’ health unimportant?



“Rats have been associated with shipping for thousands of years. Roman ships brought the black rat to the British Isles over 1,600 years ago. The brown or wharf rat is found on every continent in the world except Antarctica — much of the spread attributable to being carried on ships and boats.” – ProfessionalMariner.com

Rats are excellent climbers, jumpers, and swimmers. So as in all well-run ports, cruise ships which stop at Portland Port have rat guards fitted to their mooring lines. These are pieces of metal (or sometimes cones) which can be different shapes and even in branded colours, but they all serve one purpose: to keep rats off the ship.

According to Pests.org, “The floating hotel can also be attractive to several different types of pests. The confined space, stored food for thousands of people, hundreds of beds on every floor.” Doesn’t that sound just like the Bibby Stockholm? With 248% of the people it was designed to carry, cramped cabins, and the kitchens producing meals throughout the day.

A cruise ship showing rat guards on the mooring lines
A cruise ship showing rat guards on the mooring lines

We checked

We like evidence. So we asked someone to grab their binoculars and go up to the Jailhouse Café, high above the port, from where there’s a good vantage point for observing the Bibby Stockholm. And just as we thought: no rat guards could be seen. We also studied high-resolution images taken of the Bibby Stockholm, which are available from leading online image libraries. No rat guards.

Does this mean that the health & safety of the asylum-seekers is less important than that of cruise passengers? Or is it just one more thing the Home Office forgot to think through?

What risks do rats present?

  • Rats can carry a range of serious diseases
  • Rats can carry fleas, ticks and mites
  • Rats can cause severe allergic reactions
  • Rats can attack humans if cornered
  • Rats dribble a lot of urine wherever they go.

What diseases do rats carry?

One UK study found that individual rodents could carry 9 of these 13 infections simultaneously:

  • Weil’s disease: Leptospirosis is spread in the urine of infected rats and mice, and rats constantly urinate while moving around.
  • Hantaviruses – A group of viruses carried by rats, causing a range of diseases in humans. Symptoms include mild flu-like illnesses through to severe respiratory illness or haemorrhagic disease with kidney involvement.
  • The plague – This is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, usually found in small mammals and their fleas. This can be very serious disease in humans, with a case-fatality ratio of 30% to 60% for the bubonic type, and is it’s always fatal for the pneumonic kind when left untreated.
  • Arenavirus – A viral haemorrhagic fever which can be lethal.
  • Bartonellosis (trench fever) – Several episodes of fever will develop, accompanied by joint, bone and muscle pain, headache, dizziness and pain behind the eyes. Can cause endocarditis and lots of other nasty effects on the organs.
  • Capillariasis – This parasitic disease can transfer to humans through the faecal matter of infected animals, and can lead to hepatitis.
  • Echinococcosis – Another parasitic disease, this one caused by tapeworms. This condition is often expensive and difficult to treat. It may need extensive surgery and/or prolonged medication.
  • Rat bite fever – This can cause chills, fever, vomiting, headaches, muscle aches, painfully swollen joints, and skins ulcers or inflammation on the hands and feet, rashes, and swollen lymph nodes. Wounds heal slowly.
  • Hymenolepis diminuta (rat tapeworm) – Causes diarrhoea, gastrointestinal discomfort, itchy anus, poor appetite and weakness.
  • Salmonellosis – Leading to diarrhoea, fever and stomach cramps.
  • Toxoplasmosis – Some people get flu-like symptoms. This can be serious for people with a weakened immune system.
  • Trichinellosis – This comes with nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, fever, and abdominal discomfort. This can be followed by headaches, fevers, chills, cough, swelling of the face and eyes, aching joints and muscle pains, itchy skin, and even more diarrhoea.
  • Tularemia – This can be transmitted by the rats’ ticks, causing a long-lasting illness that initially has flu-like symptoms. It is widespread in the Northern hemisphere.

What should be being done?

According to Manchester Port Health Authority:

“Pest control within ports is of major importance, as pests such as rats and mice are linked to the spread of international disease. The International Health Regulations 2005 make authorised ports responsible for the control of vectors that may constitute a public health risk… Rodent control both on board ships and within the port area is an important method by which the spread of international disease is prevented. All ships travelling internationally must demonstrate that they do not have rats on board by showing a valid Ship Sanitation Exemption Certificate (See Ship Sanitation Certificates).” (The Bibby Stockholm travelled from Genoa to Falmouth, for dry-dock repairs, before coming on to Portland.) Port health officers are authorised to request the master of a ship to carry out control measures where there is evidence of rats on board.” (The Bibby Stockholm does not have a master/captain, so who would be in charge if rats were found?)

Relevant regulations include:

  • The International Health Regulations 2005
  • The Public Health (Ships) (Amendment) Regulations 2007 (which provides authorised port health authorities with the power to issue ship sanitation certificates to declare ships free from disease and the vectors of disease).
  • The Food Safety Act 1990 and Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 designed to protect against the detrimental effects of pests, demanding that establishments which handle food take proper precautions to prevent pests from contaminating food. It also compels business owners and management to hire professional pest control services to ensure any pest problems are dealt with to the highest standard.
  • The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 allows local authorities and licenced businesses to carry out pest control where there is a significant risk of damage being caused by pests such as rats. It also enables action to be taken when there’s a risk of contamination for companies that store or manufacture food products.
  • The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 can force employers to carry out pest control in order to protect employees at work. Failure to take care of a pest problem that potentially has health and/or safety ramifications can lead businesses to be fined significantly.

What has been done to think though these risks and put safeguards, policies and processes in place on the Bibby Stockholm?