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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 November, 2003, 18:01 GMT
'Worst over' on virus cruise ship
The Aurora set sail from Southampton
Cruise line P&O claim they are close to stamping out a contagious stomach bug that has swept through one of their ships.

More than 500 passengers on the liner have suffered from the Norovirus, which can cause diarrhoea and vomiting for up to two days.

Passengers and crew were prevented from disembarking in Greece by the authorities, according to P&O.

Now Gibraltar is considering whether to allow the Aurora to dock there when it arrives on Monday, although P&O are confident permission will be granted.

All but 30 of the passengers previously infected with the Norovirus are thought to have recovered, with only 19 new cases recorded on Saturday.

But while owners P&O say spirits on board the ship remain high and new cases of the disease are falling, lawyers claim they have been contacted by some passengers determined to take legal action.

'First responsibility'

It is believed the Gibraltar authorities will decide on Sunday whether or not the Aurora is allowed to dock, during a scheduled stop on its return to Southampton.

After arriving in Southampton on Thursday morning, it will embark on another cruise on Thursday afternoon.

P&O has not yet made a blanket offer of refunds for those who do not want to travel on the virus-stricken ship.

And it has made no offer to fly home passengers who do not wish to stay on the ship and risk illness.

A spokeswoman for P&O told BBC News Online: "We are constantly liaising with the authorities in Gibraltar but it looks like we will be going in.

"There has been a dramatic drop in the number of new passengers reporting Norovirus - only 11 so far on Saturday.

They are sterilising cabins, people with masks are cleaning everywhere
Sheila Haigh
Aurora passenger

"We are very confident we will eradicate it soon."

But the spokeswoman would not reveal what the infection rate had been in previous days.

P&O has emphasised that two passengers who have died during the voyage had not contracted the virus and were thought to have suffered from heart-related illness.

On Saturday, Greek health minister Costas Stephanis told BBC Radio 4's PM programme said the Aurora episode had been "overblown" and said there had never been an official request to let passengers ashore.

"They're looking for something which is sensational. In my opinion it's overblown.

"There was no official request for the people to disembark. The facts were considered and eventualities were considered and it was thought that it would be better not to.

"That is, to have close to 2,000 people having 25% of the people being infected by the Norovirus to disembark and eating in restaurants and wander around in the city and having only a very short time to make the proper arrangements."

A Government of Gibraltar spokesman said it was in contact with the ship to get an up to date picture of the situation on board.

Its tourism and transport minister, Joe Holliday said: "Obviously if there were a significant risk to public health in Gibraltar that would be our first responsibility.

"However we hope to be able to welcome Aurora's healthy passengers to Gibraltar."

Compensation claims

Lawyers preparing to act for some of the 1,800 passengers said they could claim up to £6,000 each in compensation.

Clive Garner, partner with Irwin Mitchell Solicitor's International Travel Litigation Group, said the total claim could reach £2.5m.

He said: "We have already received enquiries from several people who wish to take legal action against P&O Cruises in the light of the current outbreak of illness on board the MS Aurora and we expect many more."

Sometimes you would hardly know there is anybody about - you don't see a soul which is most unusual.
Sheila Elton

P&O Cruises said it did not have a set policy for compensation claims "as every case is dealt with on an individual basis and treated accordingly".

Managing director David Dingle said everything was being done to ensure passengers had an enjoyable time, adding: "The mood on board the ship is positive."

He said the Greek authorities' decision not to allow the ship's passengers to enter the country was unprecedented, and the small number of contagious people would have been held on board.

'Gloom and worry'

The disease blamed for the outbreak strikes where there is inadequate sanitation - mostly in hospitals and schools or on cruise ships.

Passenger Sheila Haigh told BBC News Online she was worried about catching the bug, because she suffers from a rare immune system condition.

"It isn't contained - you don't know what's going to happen.

P&O helpline
0845 3 555 333

"They are sterilising cabins, people with masks are cleaning everywhere - the crew are doing everything they can."

Fellow passenger Sheila Elton said it was the second time in a year she had been on a P&O cruise that had suffered a suspected Norwalk virus outbreak.

She said: "We are taking all the precautions and staying mainly in our cabin.

"Sometimes you would hardly know there is anybody about - you don't see a soul which is most unusual. The atmosphere is a combination of gloom and worry."

P&O believes the disease was brought on board by a passenger at Southampton, where the cruise began on 20 October.

My 84 year old mother-in-law is on board, accompanied by her carer. All her life she has dreamed of going on a luxury cruise, as she once cruised the med with her mother when she was a small child. Life took her in other directions and only now has she been able to realise her dream - a dream which has possibly turned into a nightmare for her. At her age catching this bug could have serious consequences. My husband, Ian, her son, and I are obviously worried to death.
Christine Couper, UK

I have been on many P&O Cruises in the past years and this comes as a shock. However, please let it be known that this is a shock case of it and most cruises and very enjoyable. These ships are well maintained and as a previous passenger can believe that the staff are doing everything they can to help every passenger and that most people on board the ship will still be having an enjoyable holiday.
Daniel Holmes, West Yorkshire

Oh dear! I am disabled and booked a holiday aboard Aurora for next April earlier this week. I do hope they completely eradicate such viruses on board by then...
VS, England

My mum and dad are trying to have a holiday to help my mum recuperate from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which she contracted on her last holiday. I spoke to them on the phone this morning and so far they have been lucky, neither have contracted the bug. However mum is very vulnerable after being ill last year, so they are taking extra precautions e.g.. not using the public toilets etc
Stefany Anne Brown, UK

Not on Aurora, but came off Oceana 24/10/2003. The ship tried their very best to look after us including issuing disinfected hand wipes as we went into to buffet. However, there were passengers who felt this was beneath them and waved them aside. With this sort of arrogance how can ships protect their passengers? People should think of others and not show off.
Lyndsay Piper, England

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 Daniel Boettcher
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