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Norwegian cruise ship in Africa being investigated for potential cholera outbreak

NCL Dawn

One Norwegian cruise ship is quarantined off the coast of Africa as the vessel is currently being tested for a potential outbreak of cholera, which is a bacterial disease typically caused by contaminated water.

While guests were set to depart the Norwegian Dawn on February 25, the ship is being denied entry into the island of Mauritius due to the spreading of a gastrointestinal illness onboard. There are supposedly upwards of 100+ infected guests onboard Norwegian Dawn, according to reports from passengers currently onboard the ship.

Norwegian Dawn

“As a result of a decision made by local government officials, we will not be arriving in Port Louis, Mauritius today and you will not be disembarking the ship. We sincerely apologize for this unfortunate situation. We have been informed that we will most likely be able to disembark on Tuesday, February 27, 2024,” said Norwegian in a letter provided to guests onboard the ship.

Passengers were unable to disembark Norwegian Dawn as scheduled due to the cholera testing required by Mauritius. The new estimated date of departure for guests onboard is February 27th, which creates further delays the following itinerary. Guests on the February 25th sailing were notified of the delayed departure after most had already arrived to the island of Mauritius.

Norwegian Dawn at sunset

Norwegian Cruise Line issued the following statement on the situation, “During Norwegian Dawn’s Feb. 13, 2024 South Africa voyage, a small number of guests experienced mild symptoms of a stomach-related illness. Upon the ship’s return to Port Louis, Mauritius, the vessel’s management team met with local authorities to confirm precautions and actions were being taken to ensure the wellbeing of all on board.”

“Due to additional testing being required by local authorities before being allowed entry, the government of Mauritius has delayed disembarkation for the current cruise and embarkation for the next cruise by two days to Feb. 27, 2024,” concluded the statement.

Towards the end of the cruise, Norwegian Dawn was unable to dock in Reunion Island because of the number of guests infected onboard.

Norwegian Dawn

Norwegian Dawn was sailing a 12-night African safari itinerary from Cape Town, South Africa with stops along the African coast when illness started to spread. Mauritius is a small African country off the coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean while Reunion is a neighboring French island.

While initially thought to be an outbreak of norovirus, health authorities in Mauritius are testing samples to rule out cholera. The port authorities have indicated it will take between 24 and 48 hours for the samples to be tested. This will also allow Mauritius to rule out any other more serious diseases.

“The reason for this very strict assessment from the shore side is that there is cholera not too far away from here in Mozambique, Zambia and so on, including the east coast of South Africa. They are very very nervous to get anything out here to the island [of Mauritus]. That would be terrible,” said the captain in an announcement to guests onboard Norwegian Dawn.

Norwegian Dawn

According to the captain, the vessel has been in constant contact with Norwegian Cruise Line’s corporate office and even has corporate employees ashore in Mauritius to aid in the situation. The captain of Norwegian Dawn also asked kindly for passengers’ support with this difficult situation.

“We are convinced onboard the ship, of course, that this is not cholera and this is just gastrointestinal illness. So, rest assured that we are pretty convinced this this is not cholera,” continued the captain. However, port authorities in Mauritius want to know with 100% certainty that the illness onboard is not cholera.

Guests on the currently-impacted itinerary and subsequent delayed cruise have received a future cruise credit from Norwegian Cruise Line due to the unfortunate situation. Norwegian Dawn has been operating African safari itineraries since January 2024 and is scheduled to be in the region through March 2024. 

Read more: I went on an African safari by cruise ship. Not everything went as planned, but I would do it again

Guests scheduled to sail on the following itinerary were notified of the delayed departure because of the "fluid" situation.

Norwegian Dawn boarding

Norwegian Dawn was scheduled to depart on its next 12-night cruise from Mauritius on February 25. Due to the last-minute delay, guests were notified of the change after arriving to the island.

“Your embarkation has tentatively changed to Tuesday, February 27, 2024. This is a fluid situation,” said the cruise line in an email to guests.

Those who had already arrived to Mauritius were instructed to arrive to the terminal in Port Louis. Upon arrival, guests would be taken to a hotel on the island for a two-night hotel stay that was secured from the cruise line. These passengers will receive $75 USD per day per person for food.

In addition, all guests will receive a prorated refund based on the reduced sailing length. Norwegian Cruise Line also shared that guests will not be charged for cruise nights that this last minute changed has caused them to miss on Norwegian Dawn. Finally, guests on the delayed cruise will receive a $200 non-refundable onboard credit per stateroom.

Norwegian Cruise Line is also providing assistance to guests onboard the ill-fated cruise.

Norwegian Dawn

With a tentative departure date two days after the originally scheduled itinerary, impacted cruisers need to change travel arrangements.

In a letter from Norwegian Cruise Line, those who booked flights directly with the cruise line will be re-accommodated on new flights departing February 27, 2024. Those with independent flights are instructed to contact their airline and work with travel insurance providers for reimbursement options.

Additionally, guests will receive $300 USD per person for the airline imposed change or cancelation fees that are not covered by travel insurance.

Although Norwegian Dawn is being quarantined off the coast of Mauritius, healthy passengers are not being kept in their cabins. According to reports on social media, cruisers are free to enjoy the ship and activities are continuing as scheduled.

Read more: I paid $4,300 for an obstructed view cabin on Norwegian Cruise Line - take a look inside

What is cholera?

Norwegian Dawn bathroom

Per the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, cholera is “an acute, diarrhea illness caused by infection of the intestine, typically found in water or foods that have been contaminated by feces (poop) from a person infected with cholera bacteria.” The illness is most likely to acute and spread in places with inadequate water treatment and poor sanitation.

A person can get infected by drinking water or eating food contaminated with cholera bacteria. Typically, someone infected with cholera has symptoms that subside for 2-3 days after ingesting the bacteria. Cholera infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can be severe, according to the CDC.

Approximately 1 in 10 people who get sick with cholera will develop severe symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and leg cramps. The infection is not likely to spread directly from one person to another. As such, the CDC states that casual contact with an infected person is not a risk factor for becoming ill.

Treatment for cholera is staying hydrated after rapidly losing fluids. There is a vaccine available for cholera, which is a single dose oral chorea vaccine.

According to the New York Times, Africa is experiencing the worst outbreak of cholera in decades. “Active outbreaks of cholera, a waterborne bacterial disease, are now raging in five countries in central and southern Africa, ranging from as far north as the Democratic Republic of Congo, and down to Mozambique,” states the New York Times.

Currently, this is the deadliest regional outbreak in terms of deaths and active cases to hit the continent within the last decade. Cholera has been spreading over the last two years and is considered an epidemic in the region. Malawi and Zambia have the highest rate of reported cases.

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