Cruise ship sick toll nears 700 on return to NJ - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Cruise ship sick toll nears 700 upon return to NJ

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A cruise ship on which hundreds of passengers and crew members fell ill is back in the New Jersey port it departed from last week.

The Explorer of the Seas docked in Bayonne shortly before 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The Royal Caribbean ship had to cut short a 10-day cruise after nearly 700 passengers and crew fell ill with vomiting and diarrhea.

One woman aboard the Explorers of the Sea yelled, "We made it!" as the ship docked Wednesday afternoon. Other passengers, with blankets wrapped around them, stood on deck to watch the ship pull in.

An ambulance could be seen waiting outside the ship after it pulled into port.

The ship carries more than 3,000 passengers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its latest count puts the number of those sickened aboard the ship at 630 passengers and 54 crew members.

The cruise line said most guests who fell ill were up and about as the ship headed to port.

Health investigators suspect norovirus, but lab results are not expected until later this week.

The ship's medical team has said the symptoms were consistent with norovirus, which often sweeps through closed quarters like those on cruise ships.

If norovirus is to blame, it would be one of the largest norovirus outbreaks in last 20 years, the CDC said. A 2006 norovirus outbreak on a Carnival Cruise Lines ship also sickened close to 700.

The CDC said it recommended to Royal Caribbean that people who still have symptoms be housed in nearby hotels or seen at medical facilities before traveling home.

CDC investigators boarded the ship during its U.S. Virgin Islands Port call on Sunday. They said no single food or water source or other origin has been identified.

Richard Fain, chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean, said the company will be compensating the passengers.

"Our people responded very quickly very aggressively," Fain said. "Our people really do feel very badly that something like this happens, but unfortunately this is a bad time of year."

Royal Caribbean is providing all guests a 50 percent refund of their cruise fares and an additional 50 percent future cruise credit. It's also reimbursing airline change fees and accommodations for guests who had to change plans for traveling home.

Stricken guests who were confined to their staterooms are being provided a credit of one future cruise day for each day of confinement.

After returning to port, the ship will be sanitized and no one will be allowed aboard for a period of more than 24 hours as an extra precaution, the cruise line said.

The ship left Bayonne on Jan. 21.

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