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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October 2003, 10:58 GMT
Hundreds struck by cruise liner bug
Aurora
The Aurora set sail from Southampton
Hundreds of British passengers on a cruise ship in the eastern Mediterranean have been taken ill with a highly contagious stomach virus.

The 200m British superliner, Aurora, owned by P&O Cruises, was not allowed to dock in the port of Piraeus near Athens on Friday morning, but Greek doctors boarded the vessel.

The ship also took on emergency medical supplies before leaving Greek waters.

More than 450 of the Southampton-based ship's 1,900 passengers are affected by

the Norwalk-like virus.

The ship is now heading for Gibraltar, with many of those onboard having their movement restricted to check the spread of the disease.

A Greek health department spokesman said: "It had been decided after consulting the company managing the ship that the vessel would only dock at Piraeus to take in supplies and then leave."

I am extremely concerned and extremely dissatisfied with P&O who are acting like some sort of secretive government
Mark Haigh
Relative of passengers

During a stop in the Croatian city of Dubrovnik on Wednesday, health inspector Ivo Miloglav ordered the sick passengers to remain in their cabins.

They had not been permitted to disembark during the ship's previous stop, in Venice, Italy, he added.

The disease is believed to be a noro virus, usually known as the Norwalk or a Norwalk-like virus, which normally causes diarrhoea and vomiting for up to two days and strikes where there is inadequate sanitation - mostly hospitals, schools and cruise ships.

The buffet, thought to be the food outlet most at risk from person-to-person transmission, has closed.

Compensation claims

Some families of passengers were angry that P&O would not tell them whether their relatives were among those affected.

Mark Haigh told BBC News Online he was concerned for his mother who suffered from a rare immune system condition.

"We tried to speak to the medical centre on the ship and the lady put the phone down. We want confirmation of whether she was one of the people who went down with it.

"I am extremely concerned and extremely dissatisfied with P&O who are acting like some sort of secretive government.

"You're left thinking don't go on cruises, don't go anywhere far away from home when these sorts of things can happen."

A P&O spokeswoman said it was believed to have been brought on board by a passenger at Southampton, where the cruise began on 20 October.

"We are undertaking extensive sanitation programmes to control the spread and asking passengers to wash their hands after leaving the bathroom."

Compensation claims would be considered "on a case-by-case basis", the spokeswoman said.

"As far as I am aware all the passengers are British."

Market leader

Greek officials said the ship was carrying 1,900 tourists and 837 crew.

P&O Cruises is part of the world's biggest cruise group, Carnival Corporation.

The company says Aurora, "Britain's world-class superliner", is the market leader for the British cruise industry.

But the 76,000-tonne ship's maiden voyage was cancelled when it broke down one day into a two-week cruise.

And even at its christening, by the Princess Royal, the traditional bottle of champagne dropped into Southampton Docks instead of smashing against the ship when a bottle-release mechanism failed.


SEE ALSO
Vomiting virus outbreak on liner
05 Dec 02 |  England
Superliner tries again
15 May 00 |  UK News
Brave face on cruise breakdown
03 May 00 |  UK News
Super-liner limps back to port
03 May 00 |  UK News

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