Sea Princess Cruise Holiday illness
A North Yorkshire family of four are among 100 distraught holidaymakers who have given instructions to Irwin Mitchell Solicitors to begin legal action on their behalf against the owners of the cruise ship, Sea Princess.
The group were just beginning a seven-day Western European cruise at the end of May when they were struck down with the norovirus, or winter vomiting bug, forcing the ship to return to the port of Southampton a day early, after cancelling a popular stop in Lisbon.
Mike and Frances Woodcock and their twin sons, Joshua and Samuel, then aged 10, from Fangfoss near York, had hoped to repeat the success of a previous trip aboard the Caribbean Princess. Then, on day three of the cruise, after just one shore break in a rainy Guernsey, there was an ominous message from the ships captain.
Mr Woodcock, who is Head of Finance at a leading insurance company, said: "He announced over the public broadcast system that there had been a significant increase in the number of instances of gastrointestinal illness. This was the first indication that there had been a recurrence of the bug. Mr Woodcock was referring to a smaller outbreak on the last two days of the ship's previous cruise."
The following day, Tuesday 30 May, Joshua began vomiting and the Woodcocks contacted the ship's doctor. Mr Woodcock said: "He couldn't keep anything down, not even a sip of water. We were so worried."
Joshua was confined to his cabin for 48 hours, during which time Frances was also struck down by the bug. Samuel fell ill on Friday 2 June, just after disembarking from the ship in Southampton.
All three suffered severe diarrhoea and vomiting, which lasted at least 12 hours, followed by three to four days of stomach cramps. Mr Woodcock, who has travelled to developing countries a number of times on trekking holidays, said he experienced a mild stomach upset.
The Woodcocks were only made aware of the previous voyages outbreak when they checked into their cabin and found a letter from the ships medical officer about the illness. Mr Woodcock said: "The irony is that, before embarking, we all had to sign a declaration that we had not been exposed to any gastrointestinal illness in the 48-hour period before the cruise."
Mr Woodcock said that before undertaking any future cruises he would require assurances from the tour operator that there had not been any recent outbreaks of illness aboard the ship.
Although the Sea Princess management said that the ship had been sanitised between voyages, Mr Woodcock remains sceptical about the adequacy of the procedure.
Mr Woodcock said: "We were extremely disappointed when the apparently specially trained staff who were sent to sanitise our room failed to wipe all the surfaces, and just sprayed disinfectant quickly and then left. We were also very much aware that there was only a four-hour turn around period between the previous cruise and ours, which in my opinion is indicative the ship could not have been cleaned thoroughly before our departure."
Holiday illness solicitors
Suki Chhokar, the travel litigation specialist with Irwin Mitchell, which has offices in Leeds and Sheffield, said: "We are currently running a group action claim against Princess Cruises and have taken instructions from over 100 clients. We intend to recover compensation for the illness suffered and the diminishing value and loss of enjoyment of our client's holidays."
Mr Chhokar, who has acted on behalf of thousands of holiday makers who have suffered illness or an accident abroad, called for stricter hygiene measures following a spate of outbreaks on cruise ships.
He said: "There needs to be a slower turn around time in port to allow for the boats to be thoroughly cleansed before taking on new passengers. More routine cleaning should also be undertaken during the voyage.
"Basic food and water hygiene measures must be put in place and regular cleaning of key areas such as the toilets and kitchens is essential. Once an outbreak has been identified, health advice must be given to all existing passengers and any new people joining the boat must be warned.
"The fact that these outbreaks keep occurring would seem to suggest that standard health and hygiene methods are not being properly followed."
Irwin Mitchell is urging other people who may have suffered an illness on board the Sea Princess, or any other cruise ship, to come forward.