An outbreak of the winter vomiting virus has cut short a cruise after hundreds of passengers fell ill, it was confirmed today.

Liverpool liner Boudicca was barely into a three-week trip to Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean when travellers were hit by the norovirus.

The liner will return next Tuesday, two days early, to be thoroughly cleaned and fumigated after bosses changed the liner's itinerary.

The gastric disease is the scourge of cruises as the sickness, which causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting, spreads quickly in confined spaces.

Reports from the 28,372-ton vessel suggested up to 70% of the 786 passengers were hit by the bug and all saunas, swimming pools and self-service restaurants were closed.

But a spokeswoman for Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, which operates the vessel, said at worst it was 28% - about 220 passengers.

Saying only six people were ill now, she added: "As a gesture of good will, Fred Olsen has given all passengers a £100 credit to their cabin accounts owing to the situation's impact on the cruise as a whole.

"On their return home, passengers will also receive a cheque in refund of two days' loss of cruising."

She added: "Fred Olsen takes the welfare of all its passengers and crew very seriously and any illness on board is of great concern to us.

"Every reasonable precaution is taken to prevent any gastro-type virus from coming on board.

"Passengers are asked to complete a medical questionnaire before embarkation, and are also asked to use the sanitising gel that is readily available all around the ship before entering eating areas and on leaving public toilets.

"There are constant reminders to everyone on board to pay particular attention to personal hygiene - but the effectiveness of all these messages is only as good as the co-operation of the people concerned."

The company plans to have the ship ready for its next cruise on April 29.

Clive Garner, head of travel law at Irwin Mitchell, called for an investigation into the outbreak.

His firm is representing 87 passengers who have fallen ill on the Boudicca on five separate trips.

Mr Garner said: "This latest situation is a matter of significant concern. This is the sixth time in as many months that there has been a major outbreak of illness on this cruise liner and there are growing concerns about the adequacy of protection given to passengers, hundreds of whom have been affected so far."

Mike Davies, of Southport, told the Liverpool Echo the ship captain was providing "terrifying" daily updates.

Saying morale was at "rock bottom", he said: "People have been dropping like flies and some are confined to their cabins on the ship's doctor's orders."