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Royal Caribbean International’s Explorer of the Seas docked in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Thomas Layer • Associated Press,

More than 600 aboard cruise ship are sickened

  • Article by: Hannah Sampson
  • Miami Herald
  • January 27, 2014 - 6:57 PM

– Royal Caribbean International cut short a 10-night voyage after an outbreak of stomach illness among hundreds of passengers.

The Miami-based cruise line said the Explorer of the Seas would return to New Jersey on Wednesday, two days early, to allow for another round of cleaning.

More than 600 passengers and crew aboard the ship, which departed Jan. 21, have been sick with symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms match those of norovirus, the cruise line said, but tests will tell what caused the outbreak.

The ship canceled a planned stop in Haiti on Friday to go straight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the ship got a thorough cleaning. It left San Juan on Saturday and arrived at St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, on Sunday.

That’s where an environmental health officer from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program and an epidemiologist boarded the ship to investigate.

A new update from the CDC Monday said 577 passengers — almost 19 percent of the 3,066 guests on board — got sick. That’s more than twice as many as originally reported. Forty-nine crew members, slightly more than 4 percent of the 1,167 on board, became ill.

The company said that those who got sick were given over-the-counter medication.

“Nevertheless, the disruptions caused by the early wave of illness means that we were unable to deliver the vacation our guests were expecting,” the company said in the statement. “After consultation between our medical team and representatives of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we think the right thing to do is to bring our guests home early.”

Royal Caribbean said it was taking steps to compensate passengers but did not elaborate.

Once the ship returns to Bayonne, N.J., workers will conduct a “barrier” sanitizing program. It will be the third aggressive cleaning.

The outbreak on Explorer of the Seas followed an episode earlier this month when 66 passengers and two crew members fell ill on Royal Caribbean International’s Majesty of the Seas during a four-night Caribbean cruise.

The CDC said 130 guests on the Norwegian Star, or more than 5 percent of passengers, and 12 crew members were sickened during a two-week voyage that departed Jan. 5.

© 2014 Star Tribune