Tourism & Cruises

On eight cruises in a row, passengers got ‘violently ill.’ A lawsuit may be coming

The Sun Princess when it was sailing in Alaska. The ship was the site of eight norovirus outbreaks from late 2016 to early 2017 when sailing from Australia.
The Sun Princess when it was sailing in Alaska. The ship was the site of eight norovirus outbreaks from late 2016 to early 2017 when sailing from Australia. Princess Cruises

For two months from late 2016 to early 2017, eight consecutive voyages on Princess Cruises’ Sun Princess, sailing from Australia, were blighted by a string of norovirus outbreaks that rendered some passengers “violently ill.”

“On my deck, every third cabin had a ‘do not disturb sign’ on it and there was constant cleaning of the ship,” recounted passenger William Noney, who got sick on the Sun Princess during a 14-night New Year’s cruise to Bali, via a press release. “On one of the lunchtimes, an elderly passenger vomited with people all around him.”

Noney said he became nauseous after dinner on New Year’s Eve 2016 — 10 days into his cruise voyage.

“I must have vomited for about five minutes and I am a man with a fairly strong stomach,” he said.

I must have vomited for about five minutes and I am a man with a fairly strong stomach.

William Noney, Sun Princess passenger

Now, an Australian law firm is investigating bringing a class action lawsuit against Carnival Australia, which represents seven of Doral-based parent company Carnival Corporation’s cruise lines in Australia, including Princess. The firm, Shine Lawyers, alleges Carnival was negligent in its sanitation of the vessel, leading to continued outbreaks.

Shine Lawyers estimates that more than 16,000 cruise ship passengers could be eligible for compensation if they were on one of the eight sailings, departing from Dec. 5, 2016, to Feb. 16, 2017, on which passengers reported falling sick with the stomach virus, typically referred to as norovirus.

“Our investigation revolves around an alleged failure of a duty of care by Carnival to properly and adequately sanitize the Sun Princess on each cruise and also to give adequate guidelines and safeguards to passengers in preventing them from coming down with norovirus,” said Thomas Janson, an attorney with Shine Lawyers, via a release.

Janson said his firm had been told there were very short turnarounds between voyages — about two hours each time — to clean the vessel.

Shine Lawyers estimates that more than 16,000 cruise ship passengers could be eligible for compensation.

“That’s manifestly inadequate to sanitize a ship that’s the size of a skyscraper,” said Janson. He is seeking restitution for passengers to be equal to a refund for the prices of the cruise and twice the amount in damages.

Princess Cruises declined to comment on the case.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program works to inspect ships that dock in ports in the United States for cleanliness. The program aims to control the spread of gastrointestinal illnesses, such as norovirus, on cruise vessels. Norovirus is not limited to cruise ships but can break out in any closed environment, such as a school or hotel.

During inspections from 1996 through August 2016, when the Sun Princess was stopped in a U.S. port, the ship always earned satisfactory scores. It’s been sailing in Australia for at least part of each year since 2007.

Experts have said they haven’t found a direct correlation between failed inspections and outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses.

And, according to a recent publication by the CDC detailing cases of acute gastroenteritis on cruise ships from 2008 to 2014, only 129,678 passengers of 74 million — or less than 1 percent — in that time period contracted a gastrointestinal illness as defined by the Vessel Sanitation Program. Of those nearly 130,000 passengers, only one in 10 were part of a norovirus outbreak.

During inspections from 1996 through August 2016, when the Sun Princess was stopped in a U.S. port, the ship always earned satisfactory scores.

Miami-based maritime lawyer Jim Walker said in an interview Tuesday that Shine Lawyers likely faces a difficult case against Princess. It’s unclear if the case will be filed in South Florida, where Carnival Corp. is based, or in Australia, where Carnival Australia is based.

“The standard down there is a lot looser than the U.S. courts,” Walker said. “That type of case couldn’t fly here in the U.S. because the federal courts require scientific proof, which seems pretty difficult if not impossible to prove.”

A Missouri couple on their honeymoon said they could not use the bathroom in their cruise cabin aboard Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Triumph because of "black sewage," smelling of poop, that would bubble up out of the shower drain.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

Voyages with norovirus outbreaks

▪  Dec. 5, 2016, to Dec. 18, 2016: Adelaide to Fremantle

▪  Dec. 18, 2016, to Dec. 21 2016: Three-day Margaret River Cruise

▪  Dec. 21, 2016, to Jan. 5, 2017: Indonesian cruise

▪  Jan. 4, 2017, to Jan. 8, 2017: Three-day Margaret River Cruise, Fremantle to Busselton and return

▪ Jan. 8, 2017, to Jan. 22, 2017: Freemantle to Brisbane

▪ Jan. 22, 2017, to Feb. 2, 2017: Papua New Guinea (departing from Brisbane)

▪ Feb. 2, 2017, to Feb. 16, 2017: New Zealand (departing from Brisbane)

▪  Feb. 16, 2017, to Feb. 26, 2017: South Pacific Cruise

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments