Demand For Tighter Hygiene Controls After Hundreds Affected By New Cruise Ship Virus

Grand Princess cruise illness outbreak

21.05.2010


Lawyers acting for passengers struck down by an outbreak of illness on a luxury cruise liner in May have demanded stricter regulations around hygiene procedures after being contacted by people who have also fallen ill on its current voyage.

Travel law experts at Irwin Mitchell have been receiving calls from stricken passengers on board the Grand Princess midway through the liner’s current Mediterranean cruise with hundreds of people on board.

The firm is now demanding a full explanation for everyone currently aboard as to why the ship was allowed to sail so soon after the previous outbreak, after details from the authorities at Southampton showed it had been cleaned and turned around in just over ten hours despite hundreds of passengers reportedly having suffered from illness before it docked.

Clive Garner, Head of Irwin Mitchell’s specialist travel law team, is also demanding that passengers on its next cruise are fully informed of the current problems and health risks in advance of its next sailing date and given the choice whether to carry on with their holiday, choose an alternative or get their money back.

And he also urged Port Authorities to take a tougher line with cruise companies to ensure ships are deep cleaned effectively before they are allowed to sail again to prevent recurring outbreaks, as it emerged that the liner is scheduled to sail again just nine hours after it returns to Southampton on Saturday (May 22nd).

Reports from angry passengers on board the Grand Princess - described as a ‘palace at sea’ by its owners - say they are being given daily updates on the illness, thought to be the sickness bug Norovirus, and the ship’s buffet restaurant has been closed as its crew try to contain the outbreak.

Timings from the Southampton port authorities show that the 700-bedroom liner docked just before 7am last Saturday (May 8) after the cruise was hit by sickness, but was at sea again by 5.20pm the same day. Customers were delayed by 90 minutes before they could embark on the ship and were greeted by letters in their cabins informing them that there had been a norovirus outbreak, but now say that many of the passengers on the ship - which can carry more than 2,500 people - have been affected by another sickness outbreak.

Lawyers from the firm are already representing passengers from the Grand Princess’ last voyage, including 73-year-old William Clasper and his wife Mary, 76, who were hit by severe gastric illness whilst holidaying earlier this month on board the liner, owned by tour operator Princess Cruises.

The couple, from Haxby in York, saw their trip ruined by diarrhoea and vomiting which left them confined to their cabin and needing to see the ship’s doctor. Both have since been to their GP after returning to the UK and continue to suffer from the illness several days after returning ashore.

They said they were told that hundreds of people had been affected by the illness spread through the ship. They also complained about the quality of the food and general hygiene standards on board the ship.

Mr Clasper said: “Everything is made to sound so wonderful when you book the cruise and look at the photographs but it turned out to be very different when we were on board.

“The overall quality of the cruise was terrible. Food was often undercooked and the eggs were extremely runny - a couple of times they were even served to us raw.

“It just seemed like there was a general lack of care by the staff. The ship was generally unclean and it was two days before they came to disinfect our cabin. They just didn’t have enough staff to cope with the outbreak.”

He added: “It was just dreadful. We’d looked forward to it but our trip was ruined and we weren’t the only ones. We were told as many as 800 people had been affected on our trip so to hear that it’s happening again now is just shocking. They really do need to get their act together and sort this out. They can’t ruin people’s hard-earned holidays like this.”

Clive Garner said the firm had received reports from travellers who returned home from the Grand Princess’ last cruise at the start of May and had complained of diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, stomach cramps, weight loss and lethargy.

And he said it was deeply concerning to hear of further problems on the ship’s current trip, where passengers were expecting to visit Malaga, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Rome, Naples, Corsica and Gibraltar before returning home on May 22nd.

Garner said: “The fact that this liner has been allowed to set sail again so quickly is astounding given the reports of such widespread illness on the preceding cruise. Assuming for one moment that the cause of the illnesses was Norovirus as opposed to Salmonella or other bacterial illness typically caused by poor food hygiene standards, I would have expected a thorough deep cleaning of the whole ship before it was allowed to take on board more passengers. For maximum effect this would normally have taken at least 2 days. I struggle to see how a fully effective deep clean of such a large ship could be achieved in a few short hours.

“If a deep clean is not carried out properly then it is of limited use in preventing further infections and new passengers joining the ship will be walking into an environment where there is a significant risk of a further outbreak of illness. It is too early to determine if this has happened here but the apparent speed of the deep clean of the Grand Princess is remarkable and our clients on board the current cruise demand to know whether more could and should have been done to make the ship safe before it sailed.”

Garner added: “We are also concerned about whether passengers were given full and frank information about the scale of the previous problems before boarding and the risks they may be taking by joining the present cruise. Passengers have a right to make an informed decision about whether they want to proceed with their holiday arrangements. As well as reducing the risk of illness, it is a Cruise Line's duty to give full and frank disclosure of risks as soon as they are aware of them." 

“The ship’s owners may think their liner is a palace at sea but what we’re hearing from desperately upset people calling us doesn’t sound much like a palace to me. It sounds like a serious problem which the crew haven’t been able to deal with and the end result is a large number of seriously ill passengers who feel badly let down.

“We’ve had numerous calls from passengers on the earlier cruise who are glad to be home but are furious about their illnesses and the fact that their holidays were ruined. While now we’re also getting calls from people who are currently on board and caught up in the middle of yet another outbreak of illness. We expect to hear from many more, sadly.”

He added: “Over the past couple of years, Irwin Mitchell has represented thousands of cruise ship passengers and guests at hotels around the world who have fallen ill. Time after time we find that these outbreaks of illness, many of which leave our clients with long term symptoms, could have been prevented by following basic hygiene procedures.

“We think it’s time that we saw tougher regulations to ensure deep cleaning of ships is undertaken effectively before re-sailing. We also want to see stricter rules to ensure that ships cannot take on board new passengers until there is a high degree of certainty that the ship and its crew are free from infection and that those coming on board will be safe and not exposed to the continuing risk of illness.

“As well as the careful disinfection of all surfaces on board the ship, each member of the crew should be thoroughly screened to ensure they are not at risk of contaminating others. There also needs to be early provision of key factual information to prospective passengers about any recent outbreaks of illness and the risk to them so that they can make an informed decision about whether to go ahead with their planned cruise or not.

"Illness outbreaks need to be managed more effectively and passenger protection must always come before commercial considerations."