updated 1/16/2012 5:44:22 PM ET 2012-01-16T22:44:22

Princess Cruises said Monday that it is surprised and disappointed that the Falkland Islands government turned away its Star Princess ship because a small number of people on board have stomach flu.

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The decision came as Argentina and Britain engage in a diplomatic row over the islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas. Brazil, Chile and Uruguay have agreed to support Argentina by turning away any ship flying the Falklands flag. Hundreds of citizens of these countries are among the 3,562 passengers and crew on board.

Falklands government spokesman Darren Christie said it had to deny entry to the ship Saturday because some passengers had contagious norovirus, which the islands are ill-equipped to handle. The decision was made by the Falklands' chief medical officer in consultation with a microbiologist in Britain, Christie said.

"An outbreak in the Falkland Islands would put enormous pressure on our limited medical resources, and jeopardize other scheduled cruise visits," his statement said.

Princess Cruises called the decision "totally unwarranted" and unscientific, and said it runs against international health policy.

"No Princess ship has ever been denied entry into a port based on incidences of ill passengers and crew onboard," said Julie Benson, the company's vice president for public relations.

She said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Britain's Health Protection Agency and other international health organizations encourage ports to provide support to vessels arriving with ill people.

Benson said a total of 74 passengers and crew, about 2 percent of those on board, had been reported ill. Of those, 20 people now have symptoms, which falls short of the 3 percent that the CDC would consider an outbreak, her statement said.

Argentina's foreign ministry said that the cruise ship complied with health regulations at its previous ports of call in Chile and Argentina and that it hopes the decision isn't "only the latest hostile act against tourists of various nationalities, including Argentine citizens who have the simple desire and hope of getting to see the Malvinas Islands."

The ship had planned to dock in Port Stanley in the middle of its 14-day South America cruise from Valparaiso, Chile, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The ship's next port of call is Tuesday in Buenos Aires, followed by Montevideo, Uruguay. The cruise ends Jan. 21.

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