Spirit of Discovery: Cruise ship passenger ‘held on for dear life’

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Passengers were injured when Spirit of Discovery was caught in a storm off western France
By Daisy Stephens
BBC News

A passenger on the Spirit of Discovery has described “holding on for dear life” after the cruise ship was hit by a storm in the Bay of Biscay.

About 100 people were injured when the boat veered to one side during a safety manoeuvre on its way back to the UK.

Most of the injuries were minor but four people were taken to hospital once the ship docked in Portsmouth, cruise company Saga said.

Passenger Jan Bendall, 75, said the storm was frightening.

The ship departed for a 14-day cruise around the Canary Islands on 24 October with about 1,000 people on board.

A decision was made to return to the UK early due to worsening weather, but on Saturday the ship encountered the storm in the Bay of Biscay – a notoriously rough area for boats.

Four people were taken to hospital after the ship docked in Portsmouth on Monday night

It was there that the ship’s safety system kicked in, causing it to veer suddenly to the left and effectively stop. A Saga spokesperson said this was when most of the injuries occurred.

The ship was then held there until weather conditions improved.

Mrs Bendall, 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 “remain seated or lie down”.

She said after the ship halted it was stationary for about 15 hours whilst “caught in the middle of the storm”, during which she and her husband were “holding on for dear life”.

“It was quite frightening,” she said.

“I’m not somebody who frightens easily… it was quite dramatic.”

‘Tables were flying’

She went on: “We were lucky – we’re quite able-bodied, but I think some of the older people and people on their own in cabins were quite worried.”

Another passenger told the BBC “tables were flying” and the waves were “throwing people around all up and down the place”.

Mrs Bendall said 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”.

She said the crew and captain gave regular updates and repeatedly reassured passengers “the ship is safe”.

She and her husband disembarked the ship at about 09:00 GMT on Tuesday, and described seeing workers replacing glass doors, windows and partitions that had been smashed in the storm.

Saga confirmed there had been “very limited” damage to some fixtures inside the boat but said earlier that the ship “remained safe at all times”.

“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 spokesperson added.

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