Royal Caribbean International is bringing its Explorer of the Seas cruise ship back to port two days early after more than 600 passengers and crew members fell sick with a stomach flu during a 10-day Caribbean cruise.
The Miami-based cruise line made the decision early Monday after its medical team consulted with representatives of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC health officer and epidemiologist boarded the ship Sunday when it docked in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands to evaluate the outbreak and ship’s response activities.
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“We think the right thing to do is to bring our guests home early, and use the extra time to sanitize the ship even more thoroughly,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement. “We are sorry for disappointing our guests, and we are taking several steps to compensate them for their inconvenience.”
The cruise line said all guests will receive compensation in the form of onboard credit, as well as a future cruise certificate for 50 percent of the cruise fare paid for their Jan. 21 cruise that departed Bayonne, New Jersey. That’s in addition to compensation already offered to guests who were confined to their cabins by illness, Royal Caribbean said.
When Explorer returns to port in New Jersey Wednesday, the entire ship will undergo a “barrier” sanitization program to make certain that any remaining traces of the illness are eliminated, the cruise line said.
That process will be the third aggressive sanitizing program the ship has implemented since the outbreak , and will provide a window of more than 24 hours where there are no persons aboard the ship, which is a significant help, Royal Caribbean noted.
Guests scheduled for the next cruise on Explorer can be confident that all possible measures will have been taken to prevent further problems, the cruise line said.
According to the CDC, 577 of Explorer’s 3,050 passengers and 49 of its 1,165 crew members reported symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea during the outbreak of gastrointestinal illness.
Explorer departed from Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, N.J., Tuesday with stops planned in Haiti and Puerto Rico, among other destinations.
While the exact cause of the outbreak is still pending investigation, the symptoms are consistent with that of norovirus, Royal Caribbean said.
The highly contagious norovirus is easily spread people- to- people and can be passed on by touching affected surfaces, and symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting, according to the CDC.
Although not generally serious, it can be deadly in small children, the elderly and people with health issues.
The Explorer outbreak follows an episode earlier this month when 66 passengers and two crew members fell ill on Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas during a four-night Caribbean cruise, according to the Miami Herald.