August 1, 2009 / 9:18 AM / 10 years ago

Passengers on flu-hit cruise disembark in France

MARSEILLES, France, Aug 1 (Reuters) - The majority of passengers on a cruise ship carrying dozens of possible flu victims were allowed to disembark on Saturday after health tests, the local government’s office said.

But 146 people — both passengers and crew members, some of whom showed signs of flu — remain in quarantine, a spokesman for the local government department said.

The “Voyager of the Seas” cruise ship, carrying some 5,000 passengers and crew, had been sailing in the Mediterranean as part of a 7-day tour. It left Barcelona on July 26 and had also stopped off in Naples, Italy.

It docked in the French port city of Marseilles on Friday and there were contradictory reports about whether the possible flu victims had the H1N1 strain, also known as swine flu, or more common flu symptoms.

French authorities said on Friday that the ship had arrived in Villefranche in southern France carrying 60 people infected with the H1N1 strain. They said this information was based on what Spanish authorities had told them.

The Spanish Health Ministry in Madrid said one person who had shown flu-like symptoms had been tested and confirmed positive for H1N1 after the ship left Barcelona on July 26.

The ship’s owner, U.S.-Norwegian company Royal Caribbean (RCL.N) RCL.OL, said it had tested 62 crew members and two guests with cold and flu-like symptoms onboard the “Voyager of the Seas” for influenza A, of which H1N1 is a sub-group.

All tests had been negative, it said.

A spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean said on Friday that every person with flu-like symptoms had been given the anti-viral drug Tamiflu as a precaution.

She said Royal Caribbean had provided health declarations for the ship at every port, mentioning the “flu-like symptoms” shown by some people.

There have been more than 1,000 confirmed cases of swine flu in France, and the World Health Organisation said earlier this month the virus was still spreading quickly and affecting older age groups that had been spared earlier in the outbreak. (Reporting by Jean-Francois Rosnoblet, editing by Tim Pearce)

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