After nearly 700 passengers and crew members were taken ill in a suspected norovirus outbreak, Royal Caribbean ordered the cruise ship Explorer of the Seas to return to its home port in New Jersey two days early. The ship is expected to reach Cape Liberty today.
At least 629 passengers and 54 crew members were taken ill, the highest number of reported illnesses on a cruise ship in about 20 years, CNN reports, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Explorer of the Seas left Cape Liberty, New Jersey, on January 21st for a 10-day cruise, with 3,071 passengers and 1,165 crew members on board. Passengers and crew were soon taken ill with gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhea and vomiting. The cruise line said the symptoms are consistent with norovirus, though this is not yet confirmed as the cause. The CDC explains that the easily spread noroviruses are the most common cause of foodborne disease outbreaks. Noroviruses cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, and norovirus illnesses can be especially serious in young children and older people.
After consulting with the CDC and its own medical personnel, Royal Caribbean decided “the most prudent course” for the health of both passengers and crew was to end the cruise early, CNN reports. CDC officials boarded the ship in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, on Sunday to investigate the cause of the outbreak, collect samples, and monitor the response on the return trip to New Jersey.
A statement released by the cruise line said every passenger would receive a 50 percent refund and a 50 percent credit for a future cruise. In addition, sick passengers who were quarantined in their rooms will get an additional credit of one cruise day for each day they were in confinement, according to CNN.