(January 5, 7:30 a.m. EST) -- It's been a tough few weeks for Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. The company confirms this morning that two of its ships -- Balmoral and Boudicca -- were both hit with a vomiting bug during Christmas and New Year cruises.
A spokesperson for the British line told Cruise Critic that on Balmoral's 21 December Canary Islands cruise a total of 342 passengers and nine crew were struck down with the bug, and on Boudicca's 22 December Canary Islands cruise, 286 passengers and nine crew were sick.
For Boudicca, it is the third time in less than a month that passengers have been taken ill onboard the ship. The previous two cruises in late 2009 were affected with 230 cases in total. Despite a deep cleaning process, passengers kept getting sick on each new cruise.
You may also recall that last February, more than 200 guests on a Balmoral sailing were hit with Norovirus and the ship was refused entry to the Cape Verde Islands.
In a statement, Mike Rodwell, Fred. Olsen's managing director said, "This is just the time of the year when the Norovirus, or winter vomiting virus, becomes widespread in the U.K., and being highly contagious it can spread very quickly in the confines of a cruise ship. There was, naturally, a very sociable atmosphere onboard at this time, so unfortunately the virus was spread extremely quickly."
Specialist companies have been taken on to work alongside the company's own staff to handle the cleaning programmes.
To that end, Boudicca returned to Portsmouth a day earlier than scheduled, on 4 January, and the next cruise -- a 12-night Canary Islands cruise -- will depart one day later than scheduled, on 6 January, to allow for three days of intensive cleaning to take place. As far as compensation goes, passengers on Boudicca's Christmas cruise, and on the following cruise leaving on 6 January, will be compensated for the loss of one day's holiday. As a gesture of goodwill, they also received a credit to their onboard account.
Meanwhile, Balmoral returned to Dover on schedule today (5 January) and will undergo a concentrated cleaning and disinfecting regime before departing on its 106-night world cruise this evening.
There have been rumours -- via a story that ran 4 January on dailymail.co.uk but has since been taken down -- that Balmoral was on the verge of being detained by maritime authorities. A Fred. Olsen spokeswoman tells us this is not the case.
We'll keep you posted should there be any further changes.
--by Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor