The Times July 06, 2006
By David Lister, Scotland Correspondent

CRUISE operators are risking passengersí health in the drive to get their vessels back at sea as soon as possible after voyages, it was claimed yesterday.

As more than 100 passengers struck down in the latest outbreak of the norovirus winter vomiting bug disembarked from a liner in Scotland yesterday, lawyers said that they were expecting a series of claims against operators.

Suki Chhokar, of Irwin Mitchell solicitors, which specialises in travel claims, said that he had received more than 100 inquiries in recent weeks with a view to possible legal action against cruise firms.

He said: ìThe normal turnaround period for liners seems to be no more than 12 hours and they are putting their passengers at risk by making it so short. Itís difficult to say how long the turnaround period should be, but these vessels need to be thoroughly deep-cleansed after every cruise.î

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, which operates the Black Prince, refused to take the blame for the third outbreak of the bug on board the ship in two months and said that it was bemused by the problems. Nigel Lingard, the companyís marketing director, said that the 114 passengers who had been confined to their cabins would be offered ìsome sort of discountî on a holiday, but would not get compensation.

Some 393 people spent about £1,500 each for the 13-day cruise to Iceland and Greenland. It included a five-course dinner and buffet lunches, which were suspended at the height of the outbreak.

Mr Lingard said: ìI think compensation would set an air of culpability which is completely wrong because we do our level best on this matter.î

He added: ìWould that we knew why this happened. Usually, and almost invariably, it is because somebody unwittingly brings the illness on board.î

Cruises are the fastest growing sector of the British holiday market, but a series of outbreaks of the norovirus on three liners in particular ó the Black Prince, the Sea Princess and the MV Van Gogh ó have cast a shadow over the sector.

All have been struck by variants of the bug, which usually lasts for 24 to 48 hours and causes diarrhoea and projectile vomiting. It is spread by personal contact or from furniture or handrails. In acute cases it can lead to long-term complications, such as irritable bowel syndrome and incontinence.

Health officials in Edinburgh began an investigation yesterday after the latest problems on the Black Prince. Gordon Greenhill, head of community safety for the city council, said: ìOnce we have carried out our investigation we will recommend an action plan aimed at eradicating sources that may be associated with this type of virus.î

Fred Olsen said that the ship would be held for two days in Leith before its next cruise for steam cleaning and anti-viral treatments. Carpets would be replaced. As they embark on Friday evening for a 12-night Baltic cruise, passengers will be asked if they have experienced any recent stomach problems.

Fred Olsen said that its 12-hour turnaround gave it enough time for thorough cleaning.