The Carnival Victory departed Monfalcone, Italy on Wednesday, August 2, 2000 to begin her maiden voyage, a transatlantic crossing to New York City, arriving there 12 days later. Victory was scheduled to embark on sailings into the Canadian Maritimes in Summer, with winter sailings into the Caribbean.
She sailed for only 14 months before she was suddenly pulled from service on October 14, 2001, quietly lead to dry dock under a cloak of secrecy, surrounded by tight security.
Victory had been in New York City on October 11, when the ship was boarded by government officials in a specified "special interest vessel boarding" (siv) and "vessel movement control" operation.
The ship had sailed light, as all the cruise ships did only a month after 911. People who booked cruises struggled with the decision to cancel their cruise, just to play it safe. The nation was unsure if there was a continued threat.
American leaders had taken to the media to rally Americans to live their life as they usually had, and not let terrorists stop them from doing the things they normally did. If Americans continued to stop and play it safe, the economy would come crashing down. The question would be, how far would the U.S. government go to ensure people would continue to spend money?
Carnival Victory then sailed to Virginia and had been on a two-night cruise that embarked out of Newport News (Norfolk), Virginia on October 12. Passengers on this cruise say the crew was unfriendly and there had been chatter aboard that the ship was going into dry dock for "repairs" at the end of the voyage on October 14.
However, there was no indication to passengers who reviewed the voyage that anything was functionally 'wrong' with the ship, though passengers who had been sailing it for the past fourteen months had been unusually hard on the decor according to more recent passengers.
The next cruise Victory took, after dry dock left Charleston, South Carolina on October 29, 2001. One particular review of the first cruise after dry dock remarked, "Embarkation was difficult due to the tighter security, but this was a port authority problem, not the line."
True, it was not a cruise line problem that gave passengers such a headache on that October 29 sailing. But, it also was not a port problem. It was not a problem with national security, nor international terrorists, but instead a domestic anthrax attack.
Many people assumed, after September 11, 2001 that any heightened security in the U.S. was due to the threat of terrorism by external terrorist groups. A new problem faced the U.S., the problem of anthrax attacks, which began just after the terrorist attack a week earlier.
As it would unfold, two media outlets, ABC and CBS would have anthrax sent to their offices and a baby of one employee as well as several employees would become infected as a result. Later, another media outlet, The Sun would also receive anthrax.
Because the media was infected, it was going to be impossible for the FBI to keep a lid on the problem. It was a given the anthrax story would headline for weeks if not months. But, where possible, the FBI would keep certain facts hidden from the media and as a result from the public. Not only the media, but local health professionals and law enforcement were furious with the FBI over the secrecy and publicly stated so.
As the investigation continued, and the media followed the story, city names came into the news such as New York City, The Bronx, St. Petersburg, Boca Raton, Oxford and Hamilton Township. There was not a single mention of Charleston, South Carolina nor Norfolk, Virginia.
Robert Stevens, 63, a photo editor at the AMI tabloid newspaper Sun, died of inhalation anthrax. He was apparently exposed on September 19th, prior to departing on a fishing trip to Charleston, North Carolina on September 26, 2001 and fell ill September 30, 2001. On October 5, 2001, 16 days after being exposed to anthrax he would be dead.
Then enter into the FBI investigation, Ottilie W. Lundgren (case 23 - 5th fatality) 94, of Oxford, Connecticut who died due to anthrax infection. It was assumed she died as a result of being contaminated by her mail. While her post office, servicing a population of 9,821, was not infected it was initially blamed for her demise.
That assumption was based on contamination at a mail sorting plant in Wallingford, 25 miles away. It was speculated that a letter had been delivered to Lundgren, that had touched another letter contaminated with anthrax, while it was processed at the sorting plant.
However, an FBI investigation including testing of her mailbox and every inch of her home found no contamination at all. In fact, the source of her contamination was never determined.
One important fact is known. FBI agents interviewed Lundgren's family members, friends and neighbors. They said that the FBI was "trying to button down a timeline going back approximately 30 days before she became ill". Lundgren became ill on November 14, was hospitalized on November 16 and then died on November 21. The FBI was tracking her steps back to October 14th.
Another case was never tied to any post office or workplace contamination. On October 28, 2001, a 61-year-old hospital worker, Xinh Thi (Kathy) Nguyen, was taken to New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital's emergency room. Three days later she too would be dead.
There was no trace of anthrax in Nguyen's home, nor in any place in the Bronx she had come into contact with. Investigators would say that she had not traveled in recent weeks.
On October 11, 2001 the investigation of contamination transfer began to lead from New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Florida to Carnival Victory. While In New York City, government officials boarded the vessel in a special interest vessel boarding. Three days later on October 14, they were escorting Victory to dry dock for suspected anthrax contamination and if confirmed, decontamination.
A government document dated October 14, 2001 says, "INVESTIGATION TO BE CONDUCTED DUE TO POTENTIAL ANTHRAX ON BOARD. PORT SECURITY TEAM TO ESCORT VESSEL TO DRYDOCK." Nobody on the October 12 cruise had been warned of the possible anthrax contamination. The ship had not been locked down.
It is unthinkable that the federal government, numerous agencies in fact, would believe there was a deadly, airborne biological agent aboard a cruise ship in an American port and not immediately lock down the ship. Yet, according to government documents and passenger reports, that is exactly what took place.
On October 23, 2006 Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa sent a six-page letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting a briefing on the anthrax investigation. By December 2006, a total of 33 members of Congress have demanded that the Attorney General update them on the investigation. None of them have publicly stated they knew of the Carnival Victory connection.
These facts were harvested through access to various government agencies and documents available to the public through the Freedom Of Information Act. If you know somebody who was on one of those fall 2001 sailings and then became ill, please let us know.
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