A couple have described the terrifying moment they were told to ‘sit or lie down’ when their Saga cruise ship was battered by a storm and stalled in the Bay of Biscay, forcing them to ‘hold on for dear life’ .
The Spirit of Discovery cut short its two-week voyage and returned to Portsmouth on Saturday to avoid the approaching storm, when heavy winds and choppy waters overtook it.
About 100 of the 1,000 people on board were injured, the majority of whom were hurt when the ship’s safety system activated, causing it to veer dramatically and come to a stop, according to Saga.
Passengers described people being ‘thrown’ by the force of the emergency stop and photos showed books, tables and other furniture being thrown to the ground as the violent storm gripped the ship.
Jan Bendall, 75, who was traveling with her husband, said the ship then remained stationary for 15 hours, during which time it was ‘caught in the middle of the storm’.
A passenger aboard the storm-lashed Saga cruise ship revealed that people on board screamed for their lives as 30-foot waves crashed into the windows
Jan Bendall, 75, said the ship then remained stationary for 15 hours, during which time it was ‘caught in the middle of the storm’
A statement from Saga Cruises said: ‘Spirit of Discovery was unfortunately caught out by the challenging weather conditions this weekend as she commenced her return to Britain’
Undated awards photo released by Saga of the cruise ship The Spirit of Discovery, which was battered by storms on Saturday
Ms Bendall said of the dramatic experience: ‘We were lucky – we are quite healthy, but I think some of the elderly and people in their own huts were quite concerned.’
She added that part of the dining room had been converted into “a makeshift medical room” and passengers were told to remain in their cabins for the rest of Saturday and throughout Sunday.
Despite the ordeal, she said the staff were ‘absolutely fantastic’, with the crew and captain providing regular updates and repeatedly reassuring passengers ‘the ship is safe’.
She and her husband disembarked at around 0900 GMT on Tuesday and described how workers replaced glass doors, windows and partitions destroyed during the storm.
Other passengers told us BBC that the captain of the wrecked ship sounded “physically scared” as he spoke to them, while crew members cried and others “feared for their lives.”
Passenger Richard Reynolds told MailOnline that people on board screamed for their lives as waves as high as ten meters crashed into 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 with his wife and elderly parents.
His mother, 84, was injured when the ship rocked and she was thrown to the ground while he and others were locked in their cabins, where passengers wrote last messages to relatives on their phones and wore life jackets 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 be saying goodbye to his passengers.
The passenger said people were screaming and furniture, dishes and glass were flying in all directions
“All we’ve had is a letter from CEO Nigel Blanks apologizing, which is normal corporate stuff, and saying they’ll be in touch within a week about compensation.”
He added: ‘The whole experience was terrible. Waves hit the windows of the fifth floor, people screamed and furniture, dishes and glass flew in all directions.
‘I am an ex-military and firefighter and have been through many traumatic experiences in my career, but this is among the worst.
‘People were screaming for their lives, things were crashing and crashing around us and they thought they were going to die.
‘We were locked in our cabins for two days, fully clothed in bed with life jackets on.
Some were locked in their cabins where passengers wrote last messages to relatives on their phones and wore life jackets non-stop for two days in case the ship capsized
‘I know other passengers wrote notes on their phones for their loved ones because they thought they wouldn’t get out.
‘We were there to accompany my elderly parents, my mother was in the medical department because she had fallen. They were so swamped that they had to turn the main dining room into a makeshift first aid room as it was completely flooded.
“She witnessed someone being resuscitated by three staff members and they said there were only minor injuries?”
The ship’s automatic safety system activated, causing the ship’s engines to fire and the ship to go into a sharp turn, reportedly causing injuries, but Mr Reynolds says many passengers were injured before this happened.
He also said he believed the actual number of injured was closer to 150 than 100.
He added: ‘There were 980 passengers on board and we heard that more than 150 people were injured, which is 15% of the passengers while the average age was 76 years.
‘People had broken hips, my mother had fallen and luckily she was fine, but she was kept in the medical unit where someone had to be resuscitated in front of her. They were not minor injuries.
“It is completely unacceptable to subject passengers to these extreme conditions and then condone what is happening.”
The five more seriously injured passengers were treated at the ship’s medical center and were taken to hospital as a precaution last night after the ship finally arrived in Portsmouth harbour.
In response to questions about the decision to return to Britain via the Bay of Biscay, Saga claimed that continuing the original tour or choosing an alternative route would have meant facing the storm head-on.
The crew initially planned to dock at the port of La Coruna in northwestern Spain, but along the way were told the port was closed due to bad weather, forcing them to continue north and cross Biscay on the way to Great Britain.
The company claims that the vessel was adequately prepared for the expected challenging conditions.
But Mr Reynolds claims Saga prioritized getting the ship 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 that we were trying to get ahead of the storm. All they cared about was getting back in time for the next cruise.
‘They put returning the boat before safety. I was tracking this storm on my phone two days before we got there. They thought they could get ahead of him, but we were stuck in the storm with 45-foot waves and winds of 75 miles per hour.”
The passengers and crew of cruise ship Spirit of Discovery (pictured) faced a harrowing ordeal when they were forced to cut short a trip to the Canary Islands last week
A statement from Saga Cruises said: ‘Spirit of Discovery was unfortunately caught out by challenging weather conditions this weekend as she began her return to Britain.
‘The ship remained safe at all times, but the impact of the storm caused some guests to sustain injuries. All were immediately treated by medical personnel on board.
‘While the weather is clearly beyond our control, we would like to sincerely apologize 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.”