(11:30 a.m. EDT) -- Transocean Tours confirmed today that 200 passengers out of 769 -- a very high 26 percent -- aboard Marco Polo have now reported symptoms of gastric illness, suspected to be the dreaded Norovirus.
According to a statement from the Bremen, Germany-based travel company, several passengers were hospitalized after falling ill onboard the ship. Four passengers are currently being treated at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness; one person has already been discharged. Onboard, a team of local doctors and nurses are working with Marco Polo's medical team to care for others with symptoms.
However, the U.K. media has taken Transocean to task for allowing some ill passengers to debark the ship to tour Invergordon (cruise ships generally quarantine passengers with suspected Norovirus as it is easily spread between individuals). A spokesperson for Transocean did not immediately respond to our request for additional comment.
The ship had previously been on a cruise to Iceland during which "a very small number" of passengers suffered symptoms of gastroenteritis, but the ship was cleared at Tilbury on turnaround day. This latest outbreak is unrelated, according to a statement from Transocean.
The 74-year-old passenger who died onboard the ship (incorrectly reported by BBC News yesterday as being age 70) was also an "unrelated incident," according to Transocean's statement, which says the man had underlying health problems. A post mortem will be conducted determine the cause of death, though a report today from BBC News indicates he may have suffered a heart attack.
At this time, Transocean has not confirmed how long the ship will remain in Invergordon (BBC News reports that it will be held until tomorrow); the ship arrived there yesterday for its first port call on a 10-night British Isles cruise. It was supposed to visit Kirkwall today.
We'll keep you posted.
--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor