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Last Updated: Monday, 3 November, 2003, 19:38 GMT
'Bug ship' sparks border row
The boat, which has had hundreds of sick people on board, docked in Gibraltar
Jack Straw has condemned Spain for sealing its border with Gibraltar after a virus-hit British cruise ship docked in the colony.

The UK Foreign Secretary said Spain's action was "unnecessary and disproportionate."

The border was closed for 13 hours after the Southampton-based Aurora arrived in Gibraltar on Monday morning.

It was reopened after the ship departed for Southampton in the evening.

More than 500 of the 1,800 British passengers on the ship and 17 of the 840 crew have been struck by the Norwalk or Noro virus.

There is no medical justification to keep 1,800 British tourists floating around the Mediterranean like unwanted refugees
Peter Caruana
Chief Minister of Gibraltar

This is highly contagious and causes nausea, chronic diarrhoea and vomiting for about two days.

However, by Monday there were only 11 cases of the virus on board, the Gibraltarian government said.

Healthy passengers were allowed to disembark but had to leave their passports on board to stop them crossing the border into Spain.

Queues of lorries, cars and pedestrians built up on the Spanish side of the border, among them many of the thousands of Spanish workers who make the daily crossing to work in Gibraltar.

Peter Caruana, Chief Minister of Gibraltar also described the border closure - the first in three decades - as "gross over-reaction" by Spain.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It responds more to politics than any public concern about Spanish public health."

One of the passengers who left the ship in Gibraltar, Michael Goncalves, said he had recovered after suffering a bug for two days.

On the quayside, he told BBC News people on board had worn masks and were told to stay away from communal eating areas.

He said: "P&O have done all they can to minimise the spreading of it.

"I lost two days when I was ill, but apart from that, I've had a great time."

'Solicitors contacted'

Nicola Lidicoat, the wife of a British Army officer serving in Gibraltar, said: "It's any excuse to shut the border to make our lives here as difficult as possible."

The whole holiday has been ruined. It is just like being on board a hospital ship
Andrew Williams

The Aurora's owners, P&O Cruises, said the infection was believed to have been brought on board by a passenger at Southampton when it left port on 20 October for a 17-day round trip.

P&O has declined to offer a standard compensation package to the passengers, who have paid up to £5,000 for the trip, saying it will consider cases individually.

Lawyers claim they have been contacted by some passengers determined to take legal action.

One passenger told BBC News Online he would be contacting his solicitor.

Andrew Williams, 43, from South Wales, said: "I fell ill last Sunday.

"We were in Sicily. I felt perfectly well. Suddenly out of the blue I was vomiting in the street.

"Not enough was done early enough to prevent the spread of the infection.

"People are bored because they have been on board for four days, lots of people are quite fed up. It has soured the whole mood of the cruise."

Mr Williams said he would not go on a P&O cruise again.

"I will be passing everything on to my solicitor when we get home. The whole holiday has been ruined. It is just like being on board a hospital ship."

Are you on the Aurora or do you know someone who is? Send us your experiences.

We have cruised many times with P&O and have always had a wonderful time, this virus has struck a lot of other ships in the past (not just P&O). I have always felt that the staff have always done a wonderful job, and this has been blown out of all proportion. I am really looking forward to my next cruise with the Aurora on the 19th December 2003.
Helen Armstrong, England

I have travelled on many cruise lines over the years. Each time however I have been on a P&O boat its been hit on some scale by the Norwalk virus. Each time I complained I was told, 'well nobody else has complained'. If P&O are to be persuaded to sort their problems out then people need to complain long and loud. As for passengers needing to wash hands after trips to the toilet I would suggest at least equal if not more focus is placed on the staff. Needless to say I do not travel by P&O under any circumstances these days.
Jan Hill, UK

P&O have very high standards, and these outbreaks could happen anywhere. Only last week I was on one of their ships "The Pride of Dover" and it was spotless. This ship was not quite so nice however when it was named "The Dover" and was jointly owned by P&O with a lower standard shipping line. I cannot see P&O lowering standards that cause such a problem.
Brian Willis, Cornwall

We took our first ever cruise for in July 2003 on Aurora and were very impressed by the Health and Safety regulations in place, particularly at the buffet. However it is (normally) largely voluntary and it is up to the individual to take responsibility for their actions, and the risk it raises for others. By the way; the toilets flushed perfectly well. In fact, they were a bit scary, they were so efficient.
Tracy Connolly, Surrey, England

My fiancée is on board. I spoke to her when she was on anchor near Athens; she was sun bathing on the top deck and seemed somewhat oblivious to level of the furore. This outbreak is very unfortunate, but the staff have done everything in their power to contain it. I wish I was with her rather than desk bound!
Nigel Wakefield, Southampton, UK

Having travelled on the Aurora when it was first launched, I can only praise the crew for the high standards maintained on board
Alfred Pizarro, Gibraltar
Having travelled on the Aurora when it was first launched, I can only praise the crew for the high standards maintained on board the ship in terms of hygiene, etc. It is unfortunate that passengers have been affected by the Norovirus, but it is a risk anyone takes when travelling with several hundreds of passengers within a limited space.

Nevertheless, it is a shame that Spain has reacted as it has by closing the frontier, affecting both - hundreds of people that work in Gibraltar, and also tourists that have made there way over to see the Rock. Anyhow, on behalf of Gibraltians, I welcome Aurora's passengers to Gibraltar, hope they enjoy what the Rock has to offer, and also a speedy recovery to those few passengers still affected by the virus.
Alfred Pizarro, Gibraltar

My wife and I are joining Oceana this coming Friday. Although Oceana and Aurora are hundreds of miles apart, It is worrying to have talk of virus at this late stage. Here's hoping that the passengers still affected by the virus make a speedy recovery and that passengers on our cruise take heed of the proper sanitary precautions.
Daren Bayliss, Britain

My wife and I are passengers aboard the Aurora at the moment, and so far have avoided catching the Norwalk Virus. There is a sense of eeriness most of the time - it is so quiet, like there is no-one else aboard. Our cabin has been cleaned by staff wearing masks and gloves twice in the past few days, and there is cleaning taking place all over the ship. Hopefully we will be let off in Gibraltar, so we can enjoy the remainder of our cruise.
Bob James, UK

My mum and dad are on the Aurora at the moment. I received a text yesterday from them saying they were ok at the time. I just hope they will manage to escape the virus. We are all sat at home listening to the latest news and hoping they have got it under control.
Karen Metcalfe, England

We have travelled many times on the Aurora and also Oriana. The staff and ship maintain high standards on board with regards to hygiene food prep. etc. This over hype is damaging to P &O. I feel it is the passenger who is to blame poor standards of hygiene.
Lynn Davies, England

Now, come on... In any place, be it a hotel, cruise ship, airplane etc, that people are to come in close contact with each other on a large scale, outbreaks are going to happen. I would say that the personal hygiene of those struck down by the illness, rather then the cleanliness of the ship, is to blame.
Andi Berry, a Travel Agent - England

i am going on auroras next cruise on November 9th it will be my first cruise ever and i have not been put off.
Kathleen Yaxley, Isle of Wight England

This year I have been on Oceana, Oriana and just recently Aurora. I can only put the blame down to some passengers where they don't wash their hands after going to the bathroom then proceed back into the restaurant or other food area's.
Ray Prichard, UK

My wife and I took a cruise on the Aurora 18 months ago when it was new. It had constant problems with the waste plumbing. Our toilet frequently blocked, the whole corridor had no flush for 2 days. The staff mopped up the overspill with bath towels - I have no idea if these were re-circulated. A number of areas smelt of sewerage.
Paul Evans, England

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The BBC's Peter Lane
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