A passenger on board the Saga cruise ship, which was battered by storms as it crossed the Bay of Biscay, has revealed that people on board screamed for their lives as waves nine meters high crashed into the windows.
The Spirit of Discovery left Britain on October 24 for a two-week cruise, but on Saturday the decision was made to abandon the final few days and return to Britain to avoid the approaching storm.
But as they sailed through the Bay of Biscay, strong winds and choppy waters overtook them, and around 12:30 p.m. conditions were so rough that the ship’s automatic safety system was activated.
Richard Reynolds, 60, who was on the ship with his wife and elderly parents, described the crossing as one of the most traumatic things he had ever experienced.
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.
He said: ‘The whole experience was terrible. Waves hit the windows of the fifth floor, people screamed and furniture, dishes and glass flew in all directions.
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
The passenger said people were screaming and furniture, dishes and glass were flying 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.
‘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?”
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’
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
As they sailed through the Bay of Biscay, strong winds and choppy waters overtook them, and around 12:30 p.m. conditions were so rough that the ship’s automatic safety system was activated.
The ship’s engines fired and sent the ship 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.
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
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.”
Jan Bendall, 75, who was on the cruise with her husband, said they were in their cabin when the captain’s voice over the speaker system told them to “sit or lie down.”
She said that after the ship came to a stop, it stood still for about fifteen hours while it was “in the middle of the storm,” during which she and her husband were “caught for dear life.”
“It was quite scary,” she said. “I’m not one to scare easily… it was quite dramatic.”
She continued: “We were lucky, we’re quite healthy, but I think some older people and people in their own cabins were quite concerned.”
Another passenger told the BBC that “tables were flying” and the waves were “throwing people all over the building.”
Ms Bendall said part of the dining room had been converted into “a makeshift medical room” and passengers had to remain in their cabins for the rest of Saturday and Sunday.
Despite the ordeal, she said the staff were ‘absolutely fantastic’.
She said the crew and captain provided regular updates and repeatedly reassured 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.
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.’