Passengers disembark norovirus-infected Caribbean Princess ship

HOUSTON - Passengers on a norovirus-infected cruise ship stepped back on land Friday morning. The ship arrived at the Bayport Terminal in Pasadena around 8:20 p.m. Thursday, but passenger begin disembarking until 7 a.m. Friday morning.

Over the course of the trip, Princess Cruises says 189 people, including 178 passengers and 11 crew members, became ill.

The cruise line said the increase in illness was determined to be norovirus, which is highly contagious. Although 189 people became ill, Princess Cruises said in a statement "by the end of the cruise there were no passengers with active symptoms."

The Centers for Disease Control said a two person medical team boarded the ship Friday to assist in the sanitizing process. They will also develop a questionnaire that will be distributed to crew members and staff in order to get a better understanding of the outbreak.

Princess Cruises said the ship was returning to Houston due to "unusually heavy dense fog" at the port over the weekend, not due to the infected passengers.

The Caribbean Princess cruise was scheduled to be seven days long, but a scheduled call to Belize was cancelled.

Passengers said there were indications that something was wrong aboard the ship. For example, passengers no longer had access to the buffet. They instead were served by crew members, who also repeatedly handed out hand sanitizer.

"We were confined to the room for three days," said Steve Juneau. "We didn't get to enjoy any of the meals or any of the shows. They threatened people and told them if they didn't stay in their room, they would have them put on a Navy Coast Guard ship and brought back to land. It was terrible. They cancelled Belize which was the main reason people came on this cruise."

Princess Cruises says passengers with flights out of Houston would be put up at local hotels and receive one day per diem, as well as a future cruise credit of 20 percent of their fare.

One woman said she was quarantined to her room after getting sick. "I ended up with the flu that's going around and had to be in my state room for about 80 hours," said Cathy Russell. "We had someone clean our state room a couple times a day. They brought us whatever we needed… provided room service, so they did what they could do."

Passenger Roger Richeson said he learned of the outbreak Sunday evening, when the captain made an announcement over the intercom. "That didn't bother me as much as finding out from crew members that there were already red flag conditions when we loaded... that the virus was on the boat before we got on," said Richeson.

Princess Cruises officials said the Caribbean Princess did see cases of norovirus on previous voyages, including 64 cases on the January 11 cruise and 22 cases on the January 18 cruise, amounts that didn't reach outbreak levels. When at least 3 percent of the passengers become ill, cruise officials said they are required to report the outbreak to the CDC. They said it is common to see the illness in the winter season and at the first sign of an increase, they immediately initiate additional sanitation procedures.

The Caribbean Princess began sailing out of the Bayport Terminal in November.

A total of 3,104 passengers and 1,149 crew members were on board.

This news comes just one week after a Royal Caribbean ship reported more than 600 people on board with a similar illness.
Princess Cruises said Friday the next cruise will depart as scheduled on Saturday, Feb. 1.

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