Norovirus on US cruise ship released after precautionary sanitisation

Passengers on the vessel will be informed and the ship will be allowed to continue sailing

A cruise ship that was held at sea in New Orleans over a number of days with the suspected presence of the human virus, known as norovirus, has been released.

Many passengers who were on the Freestyle Destinations vessel are said to have felt sick. On Tuesday a UK consultant infectious disease physician issued a warning about norovirus and how to prevent it.

“This could be a very serious illness,” Dr Paul O’Brien told the BBC. “It could cause vomiting and diarrhoea and, in some cases, fever and you don’t get better for a number of days.”

The cruise was not held up so much by norovirus, according to Richard Cole, a spokesman for cruise line ROW Ships, as by diners refusing to eat. “It is a hit and miss situation at the moment. We do have some people showing signs but we’re continuing with our programme,” he said.

Contamination of food on board by contaminated hands could have been a cause of the food poisoning, said Cole. Investigators are speaking to passengers to help them identify what caused the illnesses.

The Varick Street food hall at the foot of the UN building was found to be badly contaminated by norovirus, which causes projectile vomiting and gasping for air.

The riverboat experiences brand went into administration last month. Earlier, the president and chief executive of British cruise company Sail Away, Don Coupar, told the Guardian it was too early to predict a return for the brand.

“ROW has a full investigation under way as to what happened and the operation of the vessel is going to be looked at,” he said. “At the moment, we don’t know anything about how the vessel came to be open to such grave health consequences.”

ROW said it could not answer certain questions about the illnesses which affected about 17 passengers and crew. “To date, we have only received information from the UK authorities, including explanations from some passengers, and we cannot comment on that information without knowing the particular circumstances around the illness.”

The 100 passengers and 19 crew members from the boat were allowed to leave the vessel on Wednesday and will be informed about the ship’s itinerary and how it will be taken back to its final port, according to Cole.

One of the passengers, Danielle Walker, said she and her partner were unaware of what the contamination on the boat was, but had contracted the same sickness symptoms they had at their home in Luton.

“We went back to bed for a few days then got very, very ill, just really ill. We suffered quite bad. It’s really starting to pull at us now,” she said.

The seven-night cruise started in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on 5 October and aimed to sail to Havana and culminate in a series of sightseeing excursions, before returning to Fort Lauderdale on 18 October.

Around 8,000 passengers are expected to travel on the Cruises Together brand this year, according to ROW. Cole said one client sent a note to the company expressing concern about its future on the 11-deck ship.

“They’ve said the brand is one thing, but this brand with this number of people on board is another thing,” he said.

• This article was amended on 11 October 2019. A sentence relating to passengers being made ill was amended to remove language that was inaccurate.

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