A couple has described the terrifying moment they were told to ‘remain seated or lie down’ as their Saga cruise ship was battered by a storm and ground to a halt in the Bay of Biscay, forcing them to ‘hold on for dear life’.
The Spirit of Discovery cut short its two-week voyage and was headed back to Portsmouth on Saturday to avoid the oncoming tempest when punishing winds and choppy waters caught up with it.
Around 100 of the 1,000 people on board were injured, the majority of whom were hurt as the ship’s safety system was activated, causing it to dramatically veer and shudder to a halt, according to Saga.
Passengers described people being ‘thrown’ by the force of the emergency stop and pictures show books, tables and other furniture flung to the ground as the intense storm gripped the ship.
Jan Bendall, 75, who was travelling with her husband, said the vessel then remained stationary for 15 hours, during which time it was ‘caught in the middle of the storm’.
A passenger on board the Saga cruise ship that was battered by storms revealed people on board were screaming for their lives as 30ft waves battered the windows
Jan Bendall, 75, said the vessel then remained stationary for 15 hours, during which time it was ‘caught in the middle of the storm’
A Saga Cruises statement said: ‘Spirit of Discovery was sadly caught in the challenging weather conditions this weekend, as she started her return to the UK’
Undated handout photo issued by Saga of The Spirit of Discovery cruise ship, which was battered by storms on Saturday
Mrs Bendall said of the dramatic experience: ‘We were lucky – we’re quite able-bodied, but I think some of the older people and people in their own in cabins were quite worried.’
She added that a part of the dining room was converted into ‘a makeshift medical area’ and passengers were told to stay in their cabins for the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday.
Despite the ordeal, she said the staff were ‘absolutely fantastic’, with the crew and captain gave regular updates and repeatedly reassured passengers ‘the ship is safe’.
She and her husband disembarked at about 09.00 GMT on Tuesday and described seeing workers replacing glass doors, windows and partitions that had been smashed in the storm.
Other passengers told the BBC that the captain of the pummeled ship sounded ‘physically scared’ as he spoke to them, while crewmembers were crying and others ‘feared for their lives’.
Passenger Richard Reynolds told MailOnline that people on board were screaming for their lives as 30ft waves battered the windows. He described the crossing as one of the most traumatic things he has ever experienced.
The 60-year-old was on the ship along with his wife and elderly parents.
His mother, 84, was injured when the ship rocked and she was thrown to the floor while he and others were confined to their cabins where passengers wrote final messages to family members on their phones and wore lifejackets non-stop for two days in case the ship capsized.
Richard and his family spent £19,000 on the cruise and he is considering legal action against Saga.
He told MailOnline: ‘We haven’t seen the captain since this incident – normally they would say goodbye to his passengers.
The passenger said people were screaming and furniture and plates and glass were flying in every direction
‘All we have had is a letter from the CEO Nigel Blanks apologising which was normal corporate drivel saying they will be in contact in a week regarding compensation.’
He added: ‘The whole experience was horrendous. Waves were coming up to the fifth storey windows, people were screaming and furniture and plates and glass were flying in every direction.
‘I am ex-military and fire service and I have dealt with a lot of traumatic experiences in my career but this up there with the worst of them.
‘People were screaming for their lives, things were banging and crashing around us and they thought they were going to die.
‘We were confined to our cabins for two days, we were laying in bed fully clothed with life jackets on.
Some were confined to their cabins where passengers wrote final messages to family members on their phones and wore lifejackets non-stop for two days in case the ship capsized
‘I know other passengers wrote notes on their phones to loved ones because they didn’t think they were going to make it out of there.
‘We were there chaperoning my elderly parents, my mother was in the medical ward because she had a fall. They were so swamped they had to turn the main dining room into a makeshift first aid area because it was completely overrun.
‘She witnessed somebody being resuscitated by three members of staff and they are saying there were only minor injuries?’
The ship’s automatic safety system was activated, causing the vessel’s engines to fire and jerk the ship into a tight turn, which allegedly caused injuries, but Mr Reynolds says many passengers had been injured before this happened.
He also said he believed the true number injured is closer to 150 than 100.
He added: ‘There were 980 passengers on board and we heard that over 150 people were injured, that’s 15% of passengers when the average age was 76.
‘People had broken hips, my mother had a fall and thankfully she was ok but she was kept in the medical bay where somebody had to be resuscitated in front of her. These weren’t minor injuries.
‘To subject the passengers to these extreme conditions then whitewash what is going on is totally unacceptable.’
The five more seriously injured passengers were treated at the ship’s medical centre and were taken to hospital last night as a precaution after the vessel finally arrived at Portsmouth Harbour.
Responding to questions over the decision to return to the UK via the Bay of Biscay, Saga contended that continuing on the original tour or choosing an alternate route would have meant confronting the storm head-on.
The crew had initially planned to moor at La Coruna port in northwestern Spain, but were informed while en route the port had been closed due to bad weather, forcing them to continue north and traverse Biscay on the way to the UK.
The company maintains that the ship was adequately prepared for the anticipated challenging conditions.
But Mr Reynolds claims Saga prioritised getting the ship back ready for the next cruise.
He said: ‘The bottom line is we shouldn’t have been there, we were the only cruise ship that didn’t seek shelter.
‘Three days before the storm hit we were told we were trying to get ahead of if. All they cared about was getting back in time for the next cruise.
‘They put getting the boat back ahead of safety. I was tracking this storm on my phone two days before we got to it, they thought they could get ahead of it but we were left trapped in the storm with 14-metre waves and 70mph winds.’
The passengers and crew of cruiseliner Spirit of Discovery (pictured) faced a harrowing ordeal when they were forced to cut a trip to the Canary Islands short last week
A Saga Cruises statement said: ‘Spirit of Discovery was sadly caught in the challenging weather conditions this weekend, as she started her return to the UK.
‘The ship remained safe at all times, but due to the impact of the storm some guests sustained injuries. All were treated immediately by onboard medical staff.
‘While the weather is clearly beyond our control, we want to offer our sincere apologies to all those affected who are now safely on their way home in calmer seas.’
The company added that damage to fixtures on the ship was ‘very limited’.