The 300 passengers and crew aboard a cruise ship reportedly owned by the Church of Scientology were quarantined in the Caribbean port of St. Lucia after a woman on board was diagnosed with measles.
The ship was identified as the MV Freewinds, which is the same name as a cruise ship used by the Church of Scientology as a religious retreat, according to NBC News.
A St. Lucia coast guard official told NBC News that it appears to be the same ship as the 440-foot Freewinds listed on the church’s website as the home of the Flag Ship Service Organization, which the church says offers the “most advanced level of spiritual counseling in the Scientology religion.” Online records show a vessel of that name still docked in St. Lucia on Thursday.
The quarantine has been in effect since Monday, when the ship docked at the port near the capital of Castries. St. Lucian officials confirmed that a female crew member was diagnosed with the highly-contagious disease.
“We thought it prudent that we quarantine the ship so no one was allowed to leave the ship,” said St. Lucia chief medical officer, Dr. Merlene Fredericks-James, in a video posted to YouTube. “One infected person can easily infect others.”
One person with measles has an up to 90 percent chance of infecting anyone around them who is not immune, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fredericks-James warned her fellow citizens to make sure they get vaccinated, citing the largest outbreak of measles in the United States in the past quarter century.
The diseases was once thought eliminated as of 2000, but the New York Times reports that there have been more than 700 cases identified this year. More than half of them are under the age of 5. Experts believe the outbreak is fueled by parents choosing not to vaccinate their children.
In Florida, the Tampa Bay Times found that the number of religious exemptions from vaccinations went from about 6,500 students in 2011 to 25,000 students in 2018 — an increase of about 375 percent over those years.
The infected woman was placed in isolation on board the ship and was reported to be in stable condition, according to NBC News. The doctor said the government was consulting with the Pan American Health Organization.
Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw did not respond to a request for comment.
The Freewinds is used as a paid religious retreat where parishioners receive the highest levels of Scientology auditing, Scientology’s form of spiritual counseling. It is based in the Caribbean, with its home port Curaçao in Venezeula. The ship was built in 1968 and then Scientology bought it and started sailing it in 1988. In 2011, a woman claimed that she was kept prisoner on the ship for 12 years. The Freewinds is also where Tom Cruise reportedly celebrated his 42nd birthday in 2004.
The ship is run by the Sea Org, the Scientology military-like workforce that also runs the Flag Land Base in Clearwater and other land-based orgs in various countries. The Sea Org was investigated by the FBI in 2009 for human trafficking but no charges were filed.
Along with the highest levels of auditing, the Freewinds is also used as a retreat for parishioners to purchase and receive courses and seminars at sea.
Staff writer Tracey McManus contributed to this report.