A cruise ship owned and operated by the Church of Scientology has been quarantined in St. Lucia after a passenger on board was diagnosed with the measles, according to Reuters. All passengers and crew have been barred from exiting the 440-foot vessel while in port.
The St. Lucia Ministry of Health ordered the restriction after speaking with the Pan American Health Organization and other entities about potential exposure to locals, Dr. Merlene Frederick-James said in a video statement posted to YouTube on Tuesday. The ministry learned of the confirmed measles diagnosis from "two reputable sources," and "thought it prudent that we quarantine the ship."
Frederick-James gave no information in her statement about the ship, or where it came from. NBC News confirmed that the vessel in question is called Freewinds, citing a source within the St. Lucia Coast Guard. The outlet also confirmed that the ship is owned and operated by the Church of Scientology. Nearly 300 people are believed to be aboard the ship, according to NBC News. The measles victim is said to be a lone female crew member.
The church references Freewinds on its website, calling it a floating "religious retreat ministering the most advanced level of spiritual counseling in the Scientology religion." The website also reveals that Freewinds' home port is in Curacao, though the international vessel-monitoring site, MarineTraffic.com, showed that a Panamanian-flagged passenger ship identified as SMV Freewinds docked near St. Lucia's capital of Castries, and was headed for the island of Dominica next.
The quarantine comes amid rising fears about a resurgence of measles in the United States. According to Reuters, more than 700 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed to date — a 25-year high. Public health officials have linked the rise in confirmed cases of measles to a decline in vaccinations rates, driven by misinformation spreading within vulnerable communities. Most cases, according to Reuters, have been children who haven't received the three-way vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). The shots make those who receive it immune to such diseases.
Measles is spread through contact with the virus, according to the Center for Disease Control. It can be spread through the air of an enclosed space and can remain there for up to two hours after an infected person breathes it out. Infected people can remain contagious for four days before ever showing signs of the disease, which include a red skin rash. According to the organization, the rate of transmission from a measles carrier to another person without immunity is 90 percent.