Sea sickness: what are the legal rights of cruise passengers who fall sick on board?

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While sea sickness is sometimes an unavoidable consequence of travelling the world’s oceans, there are forms of gastric illness arising on board ship that are completely preventable.

On a holiday cruise where passengers are in close proximity in a confined environment, it is vital that the highest standards of hygiene are maintained. If cleanliness standards slip then bacterial or viral infections can quickly spread around a ship in an unforgiving manner. Holiday sickness can turn even the best planned holiday into nightmare. The symptoms can be extremely unpleasant and it can end in financial disaster for the traveller.

Some of the most common infections reported on Cruise holidays are:

• Norovirus

• Salmonella

• E Coli

• Shigella

So, if this type of sea sickness strikes what legal remedies does a stricken passenger have available to them?

Most cruise holidays purchased in the United Kingdom are covered by the Package Travel Regulations 1992. Although the passenger may have travelled to many destinations, they are still covered by UK law and regulations, even when at sea.

The regulations state that both the cruise ship owner and tour operator owe a duty of care to anyone travelling on the vessel. This means that where sickness occurs as a result of poor maintenance, or lack of care, both can be liable to compensate the unfortunate victim.

Establishing a connection between the gastric illness and the standards of hygiene on board is crucial to making a successful compensation claim.

One particular case that recently attracted press attention was an out of court settlement reached by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines with a group of passengers who were alleged to have contracted gastric illness (also known as ‘norovirus’, or ‘winter vomiting virus’) while on board Boudicca. Passengers had expressed concerns about hygiene procedures on board the ship, which included inadequate cleaning of public areas and their cabins. The cruise company however denied liability.

There are strict time limits on bringing a claim for holiday sickness so it is important to act promptly, particularly as delay can make it more difficult to prove that the sickness was due to poor hygiene on board.

Away from the ocean waves and back on terra firma there are number of holiday hotspots which have the dubious honour of claiming the highest incidence of reported holiday illnesses. Egypt is particularly high on the list of these destinations. Statistically, a traveller is 500 times more likely to contract food poisoning in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt than they are in Dubai. This is due to the drastic difference in hygiene standards between the two holiday destinations. Illnesses in Sharm El Sheikh are often caused by contaminated water, un-hygienically prepared food and poorly maintained swimming pools. In Dubai by contrast there are extremely strict systems in place to ensure that food is prepared hygienically, with hefty fines being imposed on those who do not comply.

The travelling public’s increasing awareness of their legal rights in the event of a holiday sickness arising can only be a positive thing as it will hopefully force a change to the standards the travel operators enforce both on board the vessels and at the resorts.

In the meantime if you have suffered for sickness whilst on a cruise or on holiday and would like to know where you stand, call our FREE LEGAL HELPLINE on 0808 139 1606.