Virus hits as cruise liner travels New Zealand

LAND HO: The second largest ship ever to enter Wellington Harbour, Voyager of the Seas, arriving in the capital.
LAND HO: The second largest ship ever to enter Wellington Harbour, Voyager of the Seas, arriving in the capital.

Crew members on board Royal Caribbean's mega-liner Voyager of the Seas are battling a suspected norovirus outbreak among passengers.

An unofficial Royal Caribbean blog website, written by supporters of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, reported about 135 passengers became sick during an 18-day cruise of Australia and New Zealand which ended in Sydney last Thursday night.

Voyager of the Seas skipper, Captain Charles Teige, was guarded when asked for comment about the health problems on board ship while at sea last Thursday.

''I do not want to talk about that. We are following the procedures when it comes to that," he said.

''What usually happens is that we have guests who come aboard and do not report it (sickness problems),'' Captain Teige said.

The mega-liner visited Fiordland, Port Chalmers, Picton and Wellington during the 18-day cruise.

It is due in Auckland next Wednesday on the first stop of its second New Zealand cruise of the 2012-13 cruise season.

It also has port visits scheduled for Tauranga, Napier and Dunedin on this cruise and will sail in to Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound before returning to Sydney via Melbourne on Saturday, December 8.

Passengers on board the vessel were last week alerted to the norovirus problem by a notice posted on the ship's in-house cruise publication.

''Royal Caribbean International has worked closely with the centres for disease control to enhance its shipboard cleaning procedures to prevent the transmission of norwalk or norovirus,'' the notice read.

Before thousands of passengers disembarked from the ship in Sydney on Friday morning letters were sent to all of their guest rooms.

Passengers were informed in the letter a number of people on board had experienced gastrointestinal illness during the 18-day cruise.

Guests were asked to report whether they had experienced symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea.

Food and Beverage director on board the vessel, Tusitala Sola, said the norovirus problem meant significantly increased workloads for crew members.

Crew from other areas had been pulled in to help with the serving of food in restaurant and cabin service areas throughout the 18-day cruise, he said.

Guests were not allowed to serve themselves from public buffets and were also handed knives and forks wrapped in table napkins by crew members wearing gloves.

Other crew members spent a lot of time cleaning and sanitising elevator buttons, handrails, door handles and chairs.

Hand sanitisers were visible all over the ship, particularly at the entrances of dining areas.

Sola said a lot of sanitising work also went on behind the scenes.

Handshaking on board was a definite no, no for crew, he said.

''Whatever you touch, if you have it (the virus) and someone touches an elevator button...potentially that person is going to pick up the norovirus,'' Sola said.

He said the whole ship, including ''1500 staterooms'', would have been fully sanitised before the ship left Sydney for Auckland on its latest cruise this weekend.

''Sanitising the whole ship is a big process...when guests board the ship we want to make sure we have gone through the process of making it safe for everyone,'' Sola said.

Passenger blog sites reveal a number of passengers had suffered from gastrointestinal illnesses on the Voyager of the Seas cruise from Singapore to Fremantle in late October and early November this year.

Tim Donoghue cruised from Wellington to Sydney on Voyager of the Seas last week as a guest of Royal Caribbean International.

Sunday Star Times