Page last updated at 21:14 GMT, Tuesday, 7 July 2009 22:14 UK

Cruise halted after bug hits ship

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More than 300 people on the Marco Polo have felt unwell

A ship at the centre of a vomiting bug outbreak is to cut short its voyage in the Scottish port where it is berthed.

About 380 passengers and crew on the Marco Polo, which is docked in Easter Ross, have shown symptoms of norovirus and are being treated on board.

Five others have been treated in hospital while a sixth person was airlifted after developing a condition unrelated to the suspected outbreak.

Another passenger died of an apparent heart attack on board the ship.

Roy Sillett, 74, from Norwich, died on Monday morning.

The ship's operator, Transocean Tours of Bremen, said his death was not related to the virus, but that has not been confirmed by medical professionals.

The Marco Polo had been touring the British Isles since Saturday, and docked in Invergordon on Monday.

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Transocean Tours said the decision to terminate the ship's 10-night cruise four days into the trip was taken in consultation with NHS Highland.

A spokeswoman said arrangements will be made for all passengers who are fit to travel to disembark and go home at the "earliest opportunity" but she could not say how soon that might be.

Those passengers who doctors think should not travel will remain on board for continued nursing and will be sent home once fully recovered.

About 340 passengers and 40 crew members are showing symptoms of the illness, NHS Highland said.

The health board is awaiting results of tests to confirm whether the bug is norovirus.

There are 769 passengers and 340 crew on board and those not showing symptoms were allowed to go ashore on Monday after port health officials inspected the ship.

It has emerged that passengers on the previous voyage of the Marco Polo who disembarked on Saturday were also struck with a sickness bug.

It was kept very quiet. I think they should have notified us
Rita Jones
Previous passenger

Transocean Tours said this was gastroenteritis and affected a small number of people. The company said the ship was given a clean bill of health.

Rita Jones, from Walsall in the West Midlands, and her husband David took a cruise from Tilbury in London on 22 June.

Halfway through the cruise people began to get sickness and diarrhoea, Mrs Jones said, with five out of the eight people on her table becoming unwell.

Mrs Jones and her husband got the bug just after the cruise. She told the BBC the illness was "absolutely horrendous".

She said: "Halfway through the cruise it docked at a port and I noticed an ambulance.

"Someone said a passenger had this sickness virus. From then on, people seemed to be getting ill."

She added: "It was kept very quiet. I think they should have notified us."

Mrs Jones said she was "gobsmacked" on realising that more people had become sick on the ship in a subsequent voyage.

Dr Ken Oates said the man who died had many underlying health problems

Another passenger, from London, who was also on the earlier trip said that despite obvious signs of a bug on the ship, there was little evidence of prevention measures.

She said: "Nothing was said to us about taking care to wash our hands etc. It was only in the last few days that someone was standing outside the restaurants and giving us the gel to use on our hands.

"Though the staff, for the last few days, were wearing disposable gloves and serving us with cold drinks we were still able to help ourselves to all the food in the cafeteria-type restaurant."

A woman claiming to be a passenger has sent tweets, or messages, from the ship to the internet messaging service Twitter about the situation on board.

She said police had been spotted on board and wrote: "Still imprisoned on boat. They are not telling us anything on the tannoy."

Although norovirus is fairly common its effects are magnified when outbreaks occur within enclosed spaces such as cruise liners.

It is not usually dangerous, but can prove serious when it hits the very old, the very young or people with underlying health problems.


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SEE ALSO
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From mutiny to cruise line bounty
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