A CRUISE liner has been forced to return to Southampton after dozens of passengers were laid low with a “gastroenteritis-type” bug.

Fred Olsen vessel the Balmoral returned to the port after passengers were hit with the bug which causes vomiting and diarrhoea.

The firm said it was company policy not to reveal the number of passengers affected, but one contacted the Daily Echo to say that he understood as many as 250 had contracted the bug.

The eight-day cruise to the Norwegian fjords had begun in Southampton on May 3, but was forced to return to the city yesterday, one day ahead of schedule.

Passengers were informed about the outbreak on the evening of May 6, and Fred Olsen says it is offering compensation including a refund representative of one days’ cost of the cruise, a voucher and other “out of pocket” expenses.

The firm said the Balmoral had returned to Southampton one day early so it could be “systematically sanitized” ahead of her setting sail on a 13-day Madeira and Azores cruise this evening.

A spokesman said the illness, which is more contagious than the common cold and is spread by contact with surfaces and from person to person, lasts for about one or two days.

The spokesman added: “Fred. Olsen’s cruise ships meet, at all times, the highest safety, hygiene and health standards, and comply fully with the strict requirements and inspections of their Flag State, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and other relevant authorities.

“At Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, the health, safety and well-being of all our guests and crew is paramount, and we believe that our systems for preventing the spread of illness on board our ships are amongst the best within the industry.”