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Virus Ship Amsterdam*


November 20, 2002

Cruise Line Cancels Trip After Onboard Sickness


IAMI, Nov. 19 — The Holland America cruise line said today that it was canceling the next scheduled sailing of the Amsterdam out of Fort Lauderdale after more than 500 passengers and crew members, including 74 currently aboard, fell ill from a gastrointestinal virus on the vessel's last four cruises.

Unable to control the outbreak of the Norwalk virus, Holland America is taking the ship out of service for 10 days to disinfect it when it docks on Thursday at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Until then, the ship is at sea in the Caribbean carrying 57 sick passengers and 17 sick crew members among the 1,896 people aboard.

"They will be getting the people off the ship and will be doing exact cleaning," said Susan McClure, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been investigating conditions on the ship and advising the company on handling the virus outbreak. "Holland America voluntarily made this decision after consulting the C.D.C. staff."

Passengers on the Amsterdam first became ill on a 20-day cruise that left Vancouver on Oct. 1 and went through the Panama Canal and on to Fort Lauderdale. On that voyage, 190 passengers and 23 crew members fell ill, reporting headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. On two subsequent Caribbean cruises on Oct. 22 and Nov. 1, an additional 231 Amsterdam passengers and crew members contracted the virus.

The 1,217 passengers who had been scheduled to sail on Thursday will be given the choice of taking another cruise this week or over the next few months or a refund.

Holland America paid for alternative travel arrangements for people who became sick and were forced off the ship. Those who became ill but were well enough to remain on the ship confined to their cabins will receive refunds only for the days they were sick because they enjoyed at least part of their vacations, the company said.

The Norwalk virus is passed from person to person and spreads quickly in a confined environment. Passengers most likely picked it up by touching surfaces like doorknobs or handrails. The C.D.C. said it had determined that the virus was not spread through food on the ship or its water sources.

The company said that once the vessel returns to Fort Lauderdale, it will replace pillows in all staterooms and pens and pencils throughout the ship. It will launder or dry clean all bedcovers, curtains, linens and blankets. All upholstery and hard surfaces will be sanitized.

"That includes things like light switches, elevator buttons, handrails, TV remotes and computer keyboards," said Rose Abello, a spokeswoman for the company. "The carpet throughout the ship will be steam cleaned. We will do things like cleaning every Scrabble game tile in the library, and every poker chip."

The ship is expected to sail on its next scheduled cruise on Dec. 1.

Passengers who fell ill on Amsterdam voyages said that Holland America, which is owned by the Miami-based Carnival Corporation, should have docked the ship earlier.

"After our cruise, I couldn't believe they went out again," said Rose Ann Dunn, 59, a retired nurse from Carlisle, Pa., who was on the Nov. 1 cruise with her husband and six neighbors. Ms. Dunn said her husband, Robert, 58, became sick and was vomiting two days before they were to return.

Ms. Dunn said that when her party arrived at Port Everglades to board the ship they were given a letter informing them of a virus aboard and advising them to wash their hands frequently. They were not offered a refund or an alternate vacation package.

After her husband became ill, the couple were quarantined in their cabin, Ms. Dunn said.

"What I'm upset at is Holland America," Ms. Dunn said, "because it's totally irresponsible not to notify us in advance so that we can make an informed decision as to whether to travel or not. I got the feeling that their primary concern wasn't with the safety of passengers but with their own pockets."

Another passenger, Lucille Hillman, 60, who traveled with the Dunns, said she paid nearly $2,000 for her cabin, including airfare. She said the virus outbreak took the celebratory spirit out of the vacation.

"People just started disappearing from the dining room, eight or nine days into the cruise," said Ms. Hillman, who said she became ill the day she returned home.

Asked why Holland America did not pull the ship out of service after the first virus outbreak, Ms. Abello said: "Certainly there is a financial implication for our company, but we have a lot of passengers who were looking forward to sailing with us." She said the company ultimately took the ship out of service to "provide all our future passengers with peace of mind and confidence in booking this ship."

Ms. Abello declined to comment on recent class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of passengers who became ill during Holland America cruises. Holland America also temporarily pulled another of it ships, the Ryndam, out of service in August after passengers became ill with same virus while sailing to Alaska in July.

A New York man in his late 50's died a week after becoming ill on that trip, said Geoffrey Norton, a lawyer in Los Angeles who is representing passengers on that ship.

"I think their mentality is they will ultimately have to give money back to the people who got sick but not to the people who didn't," Mr. Norton said. "If they canceled the cruise, they would have to give everyone their money back. As long as the cruise goes, they make money."

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