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Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Returns To Bayonne, NJ Port After Illness Outbreak

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BAYONNE, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – A cruise ship on which hundreds of passengers and crew members fell ill returned Wednesday to the New Jersey port it departed from last week.

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

As CBS 2′s Tracee Carrasco reported, the ship was docked at Bayonne Wednesday night, and cleaning crews remained onboard.

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

After the ship returned, passengers were loaded onto buses and brought to the terminal to get their bags. Although they were all smiles Wednesday, some recounted just how sick they became onboard, CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported.

“Got very ill — vomiting and diarrhea — and it was that way for about a good 24 hours plus,” said Jayne Upton of Massachusetts.

As WCBS 880′s Alex Silverman reported, the first man off the cruise ship was wheeled off in a stretcher.

Hundreds more who were sickened then came filing off the boat. Some wore masks, Silverman reported.

“It was a bad bug,” one passenger said.

Sue Rogutski and her husband, Leonard – of Bloomsburg, Pa. — both fell ill.

“I was on the floor. I was just laying down I was so sick,” said Sue Rogutski.

“She was day three; I was probably day five,” said Leonard Rogutski.

They said it became apparent to them that there was some sort of outbreak when they went to the medical center onboard.

“Everyone was freaking out. I think the crew’s staff — what they told us is they had a medical staff of two physicians, three nurses, and when you bring 100 people in, like, within 30 minutes or so with these types of symptoms, certainly, you’re, going to be overwhelmed,” Leonard Rogutski said. “I don’t think that can be changed.”

They said other staff members ended up pitching in to help, including some of the entertainers.

Others downplayed the severity of the bug and the response to it.

“A hangover was worse than this sickness. The way people are blowing it out of proportion is really upsetting. They did a really good job,” one passenger told Silverman.

“There were a lot of people who were ugly and hostile and threatened the captain’s life and they’re going to sue and all this kind of stuff. And I just feel sorry for them,” a registered nurse who was a passenger added.

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.

“We’re going to go back onboard and talk about lessons learned. This hit us hard and fast, and it was certainly not expected,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, executive vice president of operations for Royal Caribbean.

Lutoff-Perlo said crews immediately began cleaning.

“Today is the third sanitation barrier that we are doing since we found out that some of our guests were sick, so we have been cleaning the ship every single minute of every single day,” she said.

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.

And passengers who spoke to CBS 2 said although they were disappointed with what happened, they are not angry and will take a cruise again.

“We’re already booked for next year — same cruise line,” Leonard Rogutski said. “I’d go out with these guys in a heartbeat any day. The captain was incredible, and so was his crew.”

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 will go through a thorough cleaning before departing on its next journey Friday, 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern reported.

The ship left Bayonne on Jan. 21.

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