Storm-battered cruise ship back in NJ after another voyage cut short

BAYONNE, New Jersey (WABC) -- A cruise ship that was battered by a major Atlantic storm earlier this month has arrived back to its home port as another squall and a norovirus outbreak cut short its current voyage.

Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas docked in Bayonne, New Jersey, on Wednesday morning.

The ship was scheduled to return from a southern Caribbean cruise on Friday. However, cruise line spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez says planned stops in Barbados and St. Kitts were skipped so the 1,141-foot ship could avoid predicted strong winds and rough seas.

The company says the captain was following a new storm avoidance policy that was instituted after the ship was damaged last month when 4,500 passengers hunkered down for hours because of 30-foot waves and hurricane force winds. Four sustained minor injuries.

Martinez also says a small number of the ship's 6,000 passengers and crew have been treated for what's believed to be norovirus.

The ship departed Cape Liberty, in Bayonne on Sunday, Feb. 21. It was supposed to take a 12-day trip to the Eastern Caribbean, returning Friday. Instead the ship returned two days early.

Royal Caribbean tweeted on Saturday that the ship would return "immediately to avoid a severe storm and provide guests with a comfortable journey back home."

The first passengers to disembark Wednesday didn't appear to be disappointed or sick.

"Don't believe all the negative about the cruise ship from hell, all that is totally false," said Forest Hills resident Vinny Lobaccaro.

"We did all the activities, the staff is wonderful, go Anthem!," said Laura Lobaccaro.

"I didn't get a chance to see some of the islands I wanted to see, but I had a wonderful time," said passenger Betty Holman.

For the inconvience, passengers say Royal Caribbean gave them a refund for the two days they were not at sea, and their next cruise is half off.

Two ambulances met the cruise ship once it docked, after Royal Caribbean tweeted that about 10 people a day got sick with the norovirus.

John Turell, an executive with The Associated Press who was aboard the ship with his wife, said in an earlier email that the ship's captain and its cruise director made announcements about the norovirus.

"Sanitation levels on the ship have been boosted," said Turell, the AP's regional television executive for the Northeast. "(Ship) workers are scurrying around like ants, scrubbing down handrails, tables and any other surfaces that can be washed." He noted that life aboard the ship "appears quite normal" other than the very visible increased sanitation efforts.

Turell said passengers were told Saturday night that the cruise was being cut two days short because of a storm developing off Cape Hatteras.

The voyage's premature end comes just weeks after the Anthem of the Seas made headlines for another stormy incident. The ship was damaged a day after it set sail on Feb. 6 when it encountered 30-foot waves and hurricane force winds, and its 4,500 passengers hunkered down for hours. One passenger's lawsuit claims that people had to hold onto their beds to keep from falling and injuring themselves.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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