Cruise stomach bug 'has been a problem for weeks'

Ventura cruise ship in sea
P&O is advising guests with symptoms to "isolate" in their cabins [Getty Images]

Problems with a stomach bug spreading on a cruise ship have been going on for weeks, passengers have told the BBC.

The P&O Cruises vessel Ventura left Southampton on 11 May for a two-week cruise around the Canary Islands.

On Saturday, the company confirmed that "enhanced" sanitation protocols had been put in place following reports of passengers with "gastrointestinal symptoms".

However, people who travelled on Ventura in previous weeks said the illness had also been present during their cruises. A company spokesperson said: "We are so sorry that these guests have been affected."

Passengers on Ventura
Ventura has a capacity of more than 3,000 passengers and 1,200 crew members [Getty Images]

Elaine Bland said she was notified by P&O Cruises of "gastrointestinal" problems on Ventura shortly before boarding on 4 May with six friends for a week-long trip to the Mediterranean.

The 69-year-old, from the Isle of Wight, said their embarkation was delayed by 90 minutes so the ship could be deep cleaned.

"But you can't just get rid of this problem in a couple of hours," Ms Bland said.

On board, she said there were hand gel points everywhere, adding that staff were giving it out "like sweeties".

But Ms Bland said she and her friends all became ill with sickness and diarrhoea on the third day of the trip.

"P&O knew it was on board and they didn't address it properly," she said. "They've been downplaying it."

Ms Bland said she thought the ship should be taken out of action for a few days while it was properly cleaned.

"I felt sorry for the people getting on after us," she added.

'Profit before health'

Helen Bradburn, 49, from Essex, had booked a last minute cruise on Ventura to Amsterdam with her daughter.

On 29 April, the day before the ship was due to sail, she said P&O Cruises informed her of "gastrointestinal issues" on board and advised that extra cleaning measures had been put in place.

To limit the risk of catching anything, Ms Bradburn took antibacterial wipes and decided to only use the toilet in their cabin.

But a day later, she said her 19-year-old daughter had vomiting and diarrhoea symptoms and was asked to isolate in her cabin.

Describing the on-board management as "patronising", Ms Bradburn said: "They make you feel like you're just a dirty passenger, like you're not washing your hands... but that's not what it is."

Ms Bradburn praised the work of the ship's medical team but said P&O had not apologised and were "putting profit before the health of their passengers".

On 20 April, Marie, from Nottinghamshire, boarded Ventura with her husband for a 10-day cruise around Spain, Portugal and France.

"For the first few days, the buffet was not self service and staff were serving you all your food," the 70-year-old said.

She said a crew member told her there had been an outbreak of a stomach bug on a previous cruise.

Restrictions were lifted after three days, she told the BBC.

But after a day in Santander, Spain, Marie said she began to feel unwell with sickness, diarrhoea and was passing out.

She said the ship's medical centre told her she was too ill to stay on board and she was taken to a hospital in Lisbon where she was told she had "acute gastroenteritis".

Her condition worsened and she developed sepsis and kidney failure, she said, adding: "I nearly didn't make it. They told my husband I was very, very ill."

Marie spent six days in hospital on antibiotics before flying home on 3 May.

She said she believed she had "definitely" picked up the bug on the ship but that P&O would not acknowledge it.

'Approved protocols'

A P&O Cruises spokesperson said: "We are so sorry that these guests have been affected.

"Obviously it not what we would want for anyone on board as one of our highest priorities is always the wellbeing of everyone."

The company said it had "approved sanitisation protocols" and had adopted "an enhanced and proven approach working across the hotel, housekeeping and medical teams".

This included "constant and enhanced sanitation" by specialist teams and "isolating those affected".

The company would not confirm how many people on the ship had been unwell.

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