Swine Flu Sends Cruise Ship Home Early
Aruban health authorities checked passengers and crew from the cruise ship Ocean Dream on Friday for signs of the swine flu that cut short their Caribbean trip, and some could find themselves spending still more time on board.
The Health Ministry on the Dutch territory said the tests were a precaution to prevent the spread of the virus after three crew members tested positive for the H1N1 influenza and 11 others showed symptoms.
Helicopters buzzed overhead and Coast Guard boats flanked the cruise ship as passengers disembarked into the cruise terminal. Nearly a dozen health officials shrouded in white clothes and wearing masks tended to them as they checked for symptoms.
Aruban passenger Miriam Tonk-Croes said that people on board were calm but frustrated by the long wait and lack of information and were eager for the their trip that started June 12 to end.
The Ocean Dream arrived back in its home port early Friday and Health Ministry officials said it would take several hours to check the roughly 400 passengers and an equal number of crew for basic flu signs such as cough and fever.
Swabs will be taken for further analysis from anyone who shows symptoms. If a preliminary test comes back positive, they will be kept under surveillance on the ship along with cases of people with confirmed cases.
Those judged healthy will be driven to the airport in order of their flight departures, said Edison Briesen, transport and tourism minister.
The ship is operated by Spanish company Pullmantur, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Cruises . The company Web site indicates it has another cruise scheduled to start from Aruba on June 26.
Reports of the illnesses on the Ocean Dream led port authorities in Grenada and Barbados to block the ship's scheduled stops Wednesday and prompted Pullmantur to cut short a nine-day cruise that was supposed to end this weekend.
Venezuelan authorities said 381 passengers, mostly Venezuelans but including 55 foreigners, got off the ship Wednesday night at Venezuela's Isla Margarita. The ship company said that was the final destination of the Venezuelans.
One Venezuelan and one Argentine among those disembarking showed possible swine flu symptoms and were separated from the others, Deputy Health Minister Nancy Perez told government television.
Pullmantur said in a statement that the crew members with flu "are suffering mild symptoms and are recovering as expected."
The company said passengers would receive a partial refund. Venezuela's state news agency, Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, said the passengers were from Spain, Colombia, United States, Argentina, Peru, Netherlands, Brazil, Chile, Panama, Uruguay, Russia, Romania, France, Belgium, Ireland and Italy.
Some people on the ship were angry at first, complaining they weren't getting enough information, but the majority calmed down after being told they would arrive in Aruba soon, Tonk-Croes told The Associated Press.