Firm apologies to cruise passengers

A CRUISE ship operator has apologised to passengers after their luxury vessel was impounded when about 100 passengers and crew were stricken with the highly contagious winter vomiting virus.

By Sharon Asplin

A CRUISE ship operator has apologised to passengers after their luxury vessel was impounded when about 100 passengers and crew were stricken with the highly contagious winter vomiting virus.

Two of the most seriously-ill patients were taken by ambulance to Colchester General Hospital after being taken off the ship at Harwich International Port on stretchers.

The hospital said while it could not definitely confirm the elderly patients were suffering from the norovirus, standby procedures were swiftly put in place at the accident and emergency unit to ensure a potential outbreak did not spread like wildfire through the wards.

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Owned by Netherlands-based Club Cruise, the MV Van Gogh was due to visit the Norwegian Fjords during a seven-day cruise operated by Travelscope Holidays.

The ship was detained at Harwich by the Maritime Coastguard Agency on the advice of the local Director of Public Health.

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YesterdayTravelscope Holidays said about 70 passengers - all British holidaymakers who had paid between £400 and £1,400 for their trip - were affected by a severe gastrointestinal virus. At the time, there were 750 passengers and crew on board.

“All those who were affected were treated on board, although two passengers were taken to hospital on the ship's return to the UK.

“We are very sorry that the holidays of some passengers were affected by this virus, the exact nature of which is being investigated.

“As a result, the ship was inspected in Harwich by the local port health authority and the Maritime Coastguard Agency.

“On the advice of those agencies, the shipping company who own the Van Gogh, Club Crews, cancelled the six-night cruise to Norway, due to depart on Sunday May 28.”

The Van Gogh and her crew will be monitored for 48 hours and, after complete disinfection, is expected to resume cruising with the next scheduled departure on Saturday June 3.

Later in the day, Tim Knight, spokesman for Travelscope Holidays, confirmed the 70 passengers and 15 crew had been struck down with a gastrointestinal virus, thought to be the norovirus or winter vomiting virus, and suffered symptoms of sickness and diarrhoea.

Passengers who were unable to set sail on Sunday will be offered refunds and the company is still finalising a compensation package to offer those who had become ill.

John Wade, manager of the Cliff Hotel in nearby Dovercourt, was asked to accommodate some of the disappointed passengers.

He said: “They were extremely annoyed because many of them had travelled from the other end of the country to join the cruise.”

Yesterday, a spokesman for Essex Ambulance Service said it had received a call at 8.16am on Sunday because a 70-year-old woman was complaining of abdominal pains. At 8.51am crews returned to Harwich Port to transport another passenger, an 80-year-old man, suffering from abdominal and back pain.

The spokesman added: “At 10.50am we were made aware there might have been an outbreak of diarrhoea and vomiting on ship and we liaised with the hospital, Colchester and Tendring primary care trusts, the public health team and the Health Protection Agency to ensure procedures were in place to make sure we did not get an outbreak.”

A spokeswoman for Essex Rivers Healthcare Trust, which runs Colchester General Hospital, confirmed the two patients had been brought to the accident and emergency department, checked for dehydration and discharged later that day.

She said: “It is not good news to have the norovirus, known as the winter vomiting virus, in hospitals. “While we are not able to confirm these patients definitely had the norovirus, certainly procedures for accident and emergency were put into place.”

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