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Carnival cruise ship fails health inspection. Why?

Carnival cruise ship fails health inspection due to flies in kitchen, an unprotected salad bar, and not enough chlorine in the water park pool. This was the first Carnival cruise ship to fail a health inspection in five years, says Carnival.

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The disabled Carnival Lines cruise ship Triumph being towed to harbor off Mobile Bay, Ala., in February. Carnival Cruise Lines prices have taken a dip this spring and some industry observers are blaming headlines over problems on several Carnival ships. Another Carnival ship, Fascination, recently failed a health inspection.

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, file

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Health inspectors gave the Carnival cruise ship Fascination a failing grade.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does twice a year inspections of cruise ships. The latest report by the CDC shows 44 different problems on the Carnival ship Fascination, resulting in a score of 84. Ships are graded on a 100-point scale and anything below 86 is a failing grade.

USA Today first reported that "The inspectors found a number of violations on the Fascination including not enough chlorination at the ship's water park, salad bar items not protected by a sneeze shield and not enough lighting for cleaning in several food-related areas.

And then there were the flies. "At the hamburger grill, there was a large fly around the uncovered raw hamburger patties. The area was open during the inspection," according to the report.

A Carnival spokesman told USA Today that this was the first time a Carnival ship has failed a CDC inspection in five years. He said the average Carnival ship score during that same period was 97 out of 100. 

Meanwhile, Carnival and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and mixing it up over who pays rescue costs.

Carnival Corp. says all maritime interests must assist without question those in trouble at sea, a duty that would not include reimbursing the U.S. government nearly $780,000 for costs associated with the rescue of the crippled Triumph cruise ship.

Carnival released letters Friday replying to an inquiry by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, about the Triumph stranding and the cruise line's overall safety record. Among Rockefeller's questions was whether Carnival would repay the government for Coast Guard costs in the Triumph case as well as $3.4 million to the Coast Guard and Navy from the 2010 stranding of the Carnival Splendor in the Pacific Ocean.

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"These costs must ultimately be borne by federal taxpayers," Rockefeller said in his March letter, adding that Carnival appears to pay little or no federal income taxes.

In response, Carnival said its policy is to "honor maritime tradition that holds that the duty to render assistance at sea to those in need is a universal obligation of the entire maritime community." The cruise line noted that its ships frequently participate in rescues at the Coast Guard's request, including 11 times in the past year in Florida and Caribbean waters. It did not make direct reference to repaying any money.

In fact, the Carnival ship  Conquest picked up 13 Cuban nationals about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Key West on Friday. The ship was expected to rendezvous with a Coast Guard cutter near Key West to transfer them.

Crews on both ships provided their new passengers with food, water and medical attention. No injuries or deaths were reported.

And a Disney Cruise ship,  the Wonder, picked up eight people about 45 miles (72 kilometers) from Key West, but their nationality wasn't immediately known. The company was working with the Coast Guard to determine its next steps.

But in a statement, Rockefeller called the Carnival response to the request to pay US government rescue costs "shameful" and that he is considering "all options to hold the industry to higher passenger safety standards."

Those options could include a congressional hearing and legislation, perhaps even a closer look at taxation. Rockefeller's letter asked Carnival whether the money it pays in taxes covers the costs of various federal benefits it receives, a question the cruise line again did not directly answer. It did mention port taxes and fees and other payments and said it paid $16.5 billion in wages to U.S. workers in 2011.

"Every state where our ships call or home port benefits from the dollars spent by cruise lines to buy products and retain services from local businesses," Carnival added.

The exchange marked the latest chapter in the saga of the Triumph, which was disabled by an engine fire during a cruise in February in the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of passengers and crew had to endure five days at sea with no power and under squalid conditions while the 900-foot vessel was towed to Mobile, Ala., where it continues to undergo repairs.

Rockefeller had asked Carnival for details about 90 incidents aboard its ships that were filed with the Coast Guard in the past five years. Carnival responded that 83 were not considered serious under federal regulations. Three were the Triumph and Splendor mishaps and the capsizing of the Costa Concordia off Italy's coast, which killed 32 people in January 2012. The others were more minor ship collisions, an illness and one passenger who jumped off a ship.

The cruise line said it takes each incident "very seriously" and undergoes reviews and corrective measures when needed, such as a review of safety and emergency response practices across all of Carnival's brands following the Concordia accident. In a separate letter, Carnival Chairman and CEO Micky Arison said the company takes the issues raised by Rockefeller very seriously.

"We remain committed to the safety and comfort of our guests and we are proud of our ability to provide millions of people with safe, fun and memorable vacation experiences," Arison wrote.

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Associated Press writer Vicki Smith in Morgantown, W.Va., contributed to this report.

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