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Cruise canceled to fight nasty virus

Seattle-based Holland America on Tuesday canceled a cruise of the 1,380-passenger Amsterdam that was to leave Port Everglades on Thursday in an attempt to control a persistent stomach virus that has sickened passengers on the last four cruises.

Instead of heading out on another 10-day southern Caribbean voyage, the Amsterdam will be scrubbed stem to stern and left idle in hopes of breaking the cycle of disease transmission.

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which enforces cruise health standards, said the virus is not being transmitted in the ship's food or water supply, but by personal contact.

"We applaud their decision to pull the ship from service for one sailing," said Lt. Cmdr. Jon Schoor, assistant deputy chief for the CDC's vessel sanitation program.

Holland America said 57 passengers and 17 crew on the current cruise had shown symptoms of the illness as of Tuesday. Some passengers have been flown home, said cruise line spokeswoman Rose Abello.

Passengers booked on the canceled voyage will be offered future cruises or cash refunds.

Abello said pulling the ship out of service will be costly but declined to be more specific. Lost ticket revenue alone will be several million dollars, but the costs of doing nothing were mounting. The ship has had sick guests since mid October. "We hadn't got many cancellations, but we certainly got a number of calls from concerned passengers," Abello said.

It is the second time this year Holland America has had to remove a ship from service because of an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness. On July 31 it canceled an Aug. 1-7 cruise of the Ryndam in Alaska to break the cycle of disease transmission on that ship.

Other cruise ships have also had recent episodes of the Norwalk-type virus, a common one that causes nausea, cramps and diarrhea for 24 to 48 hours, but only the Ryndam was taken out of service.

Amsterdam's next scheduled sailing is Dec. 1.

Holland America, owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., said it thinks a passenger brought the virus aboard the Amsterdam on an October cruise from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale, when 215 people fell ill. An additional 283 people have gotten sick on three cruises from Fort Lauderdale.