THE planned spectacle of two of Royal Caribbean's ships leaving Southampton together for the first time was last night scuppered by an outbreak of a vomiting bug.

The departure of the Celebrity Eclipse was delayed for “enhanced sanitation” after dozens of passengers returning to Southampton at 5am yesterday morning from a 11-night eastern Mediterranean cruise had been struck down by the Norovirus.

Sick passengers disembarking the cruise ship at the city's Ocean Terminal reported seeing “people walking around in Ghostbusters suits” ready to disinfect the vessel and the terminal.

Passengers waiting to board the 14-deck, 122,000 tonne vessel for its next cruise were delayed by hours.

Celebrity Eclipse, which can accommodate up to 2,852 passengers, had joined another Royal Caribbean vessel, Independence of the Seas, in Southampton for the first time.

But they left separately as the scheduled departure of Celebrity Eclipse at 4.30pm for a 16-night Western Mediterranean and Adriatic Coast cruise had to be put back by about half an hour.

A spokeswoman for Celebrity Cruises said “in an abundance of caution” it conducted “enhanced sanitizing onboard the ship and within the cruise terminal to help prevent any illness from affecting the next sailing”.

She apologised for the delay and thanked passengers for their understanding.

“The health and well-being of our guests is very important to us and we believe that these additional measures will further assist in ensuring that our guests enjoy a fun, relaxing and healthy experience,” she said.

The spokeswoman said a small number of passengers onboard the Celebrity Eclipse had fallen ill with gastrointestinal illness, but had responded well to over-the-counter medication administered onboard the ship.

Norovirus is an extremely common gastrointestinal illness which frequently strikes cruise ships. Only the common cold is more prevalent.

According to health specialists, about 300 million people in the world are affected by Norovirus every year