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Fred Olsen Cruises have been in the headlines recently, but I expect they wish they hadn’t. Two of their ships – Black Watch and Boudicca – recently returned to UK ports at the end of cruises which had been affected by outbreaks of norovirus. Boudicca returned to Belfast on 3 October at the end of a 10-night cruise during which 72 passengers (out of 760) were affected, while more than a hundred passengers on a cruise out of Rosyth on Black Watch  in September were similarly affected. There is also some suggestion that there may have been outbreaks on these ships on previous cruises, though possibly not at a high-enough level to require notification.

There are the usual stories in the press – “Cruise from Hell”; “Not Black Watch but Black Death” – which as ever accentuate the drama. There are also suggestions that some passengers are especially upset about the ‘previous outbreaks’ issue (if indeed they occurred) – these passengers feel that they should have been told and given the opportunity to cancel their cruise with a full refund. I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation.

I’ll be honest and say that I have never been affected by norovirus so I don’t have any personal experience of how awful it is. I have read accounts by people who have suffered and I’m prepared to believe that it is indeed truly horrible; but nonetheless, my views are those of someone who has not experienced this illness and who therefore takes a neutral, even theoretical, view of the issue. Given that, I would have to say that I think of it as an unavoidable hazard. That is, there are certain actions you can take to minimise the risks of getting infected if there is norovirus on board – see here for a very good outline of a number of  aspects about norovirus – but the virus seems to be so virulent and hardy that your chances of infection are likely to be high once you’re in a situation where it’s present. And of course I recognise that it’s by no means restricted to cruise ships – it’s common wherever people mingle in close proximity for a lengthy period of time.

I’ve read one or two things that did make me sit up, however. One was a suggestion that some cruise terminals increase the chance of successive cruises suffering from outbreaks, and that’s because there isn’t sufficient segregation between the facilities and services used by disembarking and embarking passengers (for example, toilets), the risk being that disembarking passengers could be shedding virus that is then picked up by new passengers embarking.  It seems that the terminal itself ought to be subject to ‘deep cleaning’ after disembarkation has finished and before any newly-arriving passengers are allowed in, but in practice that’s not going to happen. So don’t spend a penny in the terminal when you embark – wait until later. Except that if you’re worried, you shouldn’t use public toilets on the ship either, only the ones in your cabin. But you can’t get into your cabin until after 2 o’clock, so you’d better not embark until then. Or even later. So if you see a bunch of passengers embarking at the last possible moment, wearing hazmat suits and scuttling straight to their cabins, you’ll know that they’re worried about norovirus.

I’m being too flippant, probably, about something that while not generally dangerous is very unpleasant, and can ruin a holiday. But it does seem to me that it is simply a hazard of cruising, and if you go on cruises you need to be aware of the risk and take some sensible precautions. Should I ever become infected my opinions may change, of course, and if so I’ll post here.

3 Responses to “Bad news for Fred Olsen and their passengers”

  1. Rosie says:

    I would also add ,beside only using you own cabin toilets always take some anti viral hand foam with you. NOT ANTI BAC ,though you can take that as well. Boots do them in small and large containers. NV is a virus so it’s the anti virus foam you need.
    Should also add it you are asked to stay in your cabin, then do so. I was on a ship once, in one of the shops and someone wanted to purchase something. Their card had been “turned off” as they were supposed to be in their cabin. The assistant said she could not serve them as they card would not work, and the person decided to try and argue the point. When you have people like that aboard ,what can you do.
    I have had a dose at home. I was in bed for the best part of 3 days and have never felt worse in my life. Took me nearly 2 weeks to get back to wanting to eat again. Anyone who gets it on holiday has my sympathy.

  2. Malcolm Oliver says:

    It does seem Olsen have more than their fair share of the virus each winter, I wonder why?

    • Tom says:

      It does sometimes look that way, though unles I had the figures I’d better not say so. As to why it might be so -if it is – well, the ships are very small (maybe less so on Balmoral) – perhaps it’s just that the chances of the virus spreading in that smaller area are greater than in the larger area of, say, a P&O ship. The ships are older, too – is it possible that the materials used in the decor, fixtures & fittings don’t lend themselves as easily to deep cleaning? And finally there’s the point that Fred Olsen are generally using smaller terminals, with greater contact between disembarking and embarking passengers.

      But that’s all just supposition. It could also be because Fred Olsen often cruises from local ports, e.g. Belfast and Rosyth, where the passengers are local and their stories get coverage in the local media, whereas perhaps the Southampton Echo is a bit more blasé about an incoming ship that’s a touch of noro?

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