The Caribbean nation of St. Lucia has quarantined a cruise ship on the island after identifying a confirmed case of measles on board, a health official said.
Passengers and crew aboard the large ship were not permitted to leave, Dr. Merlene Fredericks-James, the nation’s chief medical officer, said on Tuesday. The highly infectious disease, which can be prevented by a common vaccination, is in the midst of its largest outbreak in a quarter century in the United States, with more than 700 cases reported.
“Because of the risk of potential infection, not just from the confirmed measles case but from other persons who may be on the boat at the time, we thought it prudent to make a decision not to allow anyone to disembark,” she said in a statement.
Dr. Fredericks-James did not name the ship. But Victor Theodore, a St. Lucia Coast Guard sergeant, told NBC News it was identified as “Freewinds,” which is reportedly owned and operated by the Church of Scientology.
A ship named Freewinds was moored in St. Lucia on Thursday morning, according to online records. The Church of Scientology did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
According to the church’s website, Scientologists use prescription drugs and are treated by medical doctors, but the church has not expressed a specific position on vaccinations. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, the church said it “takes no position one way or the other on this issue,” despite several high-profile celebrities in the church speaking out against vaccines.
John Carmichael, president of the Church of Scientology in New York, told the Beliefnet website in 2006 that the church had not taken a stance on vaccinations “as a religious principle.”
“Scientologists are pretty independent people, though I will say this: they tend to do a little more research, perhaps, on the effect of various medical procedures or whatever,” he said. “They make their own decisions, but those aren’t decisions that the church tries to influence in any way.”
Scientology advertises the 440-foot cruise ship, which is based in Curaçao, off the coast of Venezuela, as home to “a religious retreat ministering the most advanced level of spiritual counseling in the Scientology religion” and “the pinnacle of a deeply spiritual journey.” It is used to carry out “humanitarian missions” across the world, the church said.
“The Freewinds is a very special place,” the church’s website said. “It is the one place a Scientologist may go and be certain he will be able to devote himself entirely to his religious practice and in the company of people who share his religious commitment and outlook on life in general.”
In 2011, an Australian woman said she was held against her will on the ship for years, which the church denied.
A single person infected with measles can easily spread it to others who are not vaccinated. One woman who was under quarantine endangered dozens of moviegoers in Fullerton, Calif., by attending a screening of “Avengers: Endgame” last week.