Golden Wedding Couple Demand Answers After Celebration Cruise Ruined By Illness

Call For Tighter Controls On Deep Cleaning As 26 Take Legal Action Over Illness Outbreaks On Two Consecutive Voyages

26.05.2010


A couple whose Golden Wedding celebrations on board a cruise liner were ruined by an outbreak of serious gastric illness have demanded to know why the ship was allowed to sail again just hours after returning from a previous voyage where passengers also fell ill.

The pair – who spent their big day confined to their cabin after sickness swept through the ship on the two-week trip – are among 26 angry passengers whose holidays on board the Grand Princess were spoilt on two consecutive cruises and are now taking legal action against the luxury liner’s owners.

Travel experts from Irwin Mitchell, representing the group, have repeated their call for tighter regulation around hygiene procedures on board cruise liners and demanded an answer for all passengers as to why the ship was allowed to sail just ten hours after docking at the end of the first cruise hit by illness among dozens of passengers, thought to be the bug Norovirus.

And the firm’s specialist lawyers also questioned why the Grand Princess – described as a ‘palace at sea’ by its owners, Princess Cruises – put to sea again last weekend (May 22nd) just 11 hours after returning from the second cruise hit by illness among hundreds of people.

Passengers disembarking from the second of the two Mediterranean voyages say they were given daily updates on the illness while on board and the ship’s buffet restaurant had to be closed as the crew tried to contain the outbreak.

Their trip began on May 8th, just 10 hours after a previous cruise had also seen numerous passengers confined to their cabins for 48 hours at a time, but they say they were not told about the earlier problems until they got to their cabins, where a letter from the captain informed them there had been a Norovirus outbreak.

But despite promises the ship had been deep cleaned, passengers again began to fall ill as the ship took to sea, among them Dawn and Ian Kitchen, from Ringwood in Hampshire, who had booked the two-week trip to mark their 50th wedding anniversary.

Both Mr Kitchen, 69, and his 67-year-old wife had planned to celebrate their anniversary with a special day on board but, after Mrs Kitchen fell ill and visited the ship’s nurse, the devastated couple spent the next 48 hours in their cabin, including their anniversary itself.

“This was a one-off, something we’ll never be able to do again, and I’m very upset and angry that our Golden Wedding anniversary was ruined like this,” said Mr Kitchen, who said his wife has continued to suffer symptoms even after returning home.

“We had looked forward to this for months and had planned to spend a very special day on board to celebrate 50 years together. It was heart-breaking when we ended up spending it confined to our cabin, with my wife unable to go anywhere or do anything.

“We feel very let down and disgusted by their attitude. Their view was that they didn’t care and it was as if it was our fault, but they knew there was a problem before we even left Southampton.”

He added: “What should have been a trip of a lifetime was ruined and we’ll never be able to replace that. We want to know why that ship was allowed to sail so quickly after coming back with so many people having fallen ill on it.”

Douglas and Andrea Baguley also returned to Southampton on Saturday (May 22nd) after a cruise ruined when he also fell ill. The couple, from Maidstone in Kent, said they were ‘appalled’ by the problems they encountered while on the 700-bedroom liner, which saw Mr Baguley confined to his cabin after a trip to the nurse.

Mr Baguley, 54, said: “This certainly wasn’t what we planned when we decided to take this trip. You expect a relaxing two-week holiday, not daily updates on who else has fallen ill and the desperate attempts of the captain and crew to contain it.

“The simple fact is that Princess Cruises let down us and every other passenger on board that ship. We were disgusted when we found out that they’d sailed just hours after the last cruise came back, despite all the problems they’d had on that cruise.

“We should have been warned and given the choice to cancel or switch to another ship. Instead, all we got was a letter in our cabin and a nightmare holiday. We’re appalled at the disregard they appear to have had for our safety.”

Clive Garner, Head of Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Travel Law team, said the firm was now acting for travellers who have returned home from the Grand Princess’ last two cruises, returning on May 8th and then two weeks later on May 22nd, all of whom had complained of diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, stomach cramps, weight loss and lethargy.

He said he remained concerned about hygiene standards on the vessel, currently at sea on a shorter seven-day voyage and due to return again to Southampton on Saturday (May 29th).

“The fact that this liner has been allowed to set sail for a second time so quickly is astounding given the reports of such widespread illness on the preceding two cruises,” Garner said.

“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 two days.

“I struggle to see how a fully effective deep clean of such a large ship could be achieved in a few short hours and, if a deep clean is not carried out properly, then it is of limited use in preventing further infections. 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 have a right to know whether more could and should have been done to make the ship safe before it sailed.”

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."

He 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 both cruises who are glad to be home but are furious about their illnesses and the fact that their holidays were ruined. We expect to hear from many more, sadly.”