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A dream trip turned into a nightmare for the 1,000 passengers on board a cruise ship that was hit in storms, injuring 100.
Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Discovery ship was on its final leg of a 14-day European trip, when it was caught in bad weather on Saturday in the Bay of Biscay – part of the Atlantic Ocean, off the west coast of France and north coast of Spain.
The “Canary Island Quintet” cruise, departing from Portsmouth in the UK on October 24, had promised guests “winter sun” on the “sun-kissed archipelago” of the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory off the coast of northwest Africa.
The ship was due to stop over on the island of Madeira, before heading to the Canary islands of La Palma, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria. After two days at sea it would then dock at La Coruña in Spain, before arriving back in Portsmouth after another sea day.
Everything went to plan until day 10 – November 2 – when the ship was en route to Gran Canaria, as storms approached. Officers decided to cancel the stop and head straight for La Coruña, in an attempt to get ahead of the weather. But the port closed as the ship was en route, and a decision was made to press on to Portsmouth – a distance of over 600 nautical miles and at least two days’ travel – hoping to stay ahead of the storm.
Saga Cruises did not respond to a question on why the ship didn’t attempt to dock anywhere else, or turn back, instead of attempting the journey. On the itinerary, there were two “at sea” days between Gran Canaria and La Coruña, and a third from Spain to the UK.
CEO Nigel Blanks said in a statement shared with CNN:
“We operate to the highest health and safety protocols and every decision was made based on advice from the ship’s Master and forecasts from our dedicated marine meteorologists. We did everything we could at all times to keep our guests as safe as possible and to support them through the storm, including expert medical attention for those injured.”
Catching the brunt of the storm in the Bay of Biscay, the ship’s propulsion safety system was activated – causing the ship to lurch to the left, bringing it to an abrupt halt, and injuring around 10% of the passengers onboard. Five are understood to have been seriously injured.
The ship’s crew then decided to stay in position, rather than attempt to continue the journey to the UK.
The Bay of Biscay is notorious for its treacherous weather and high waves.
Passengers reported their dire conditions on social media, with some saying they thought they would die.
One person on X (formerly known as Twitter), who said their parents were onboard, claimed the “horrendous” experience included “getting flung to the floor in the dining room with tables and crockery falling on them.”
“Why did the captain rush from the Canaries into the storm?” they added.
They also shared a screenshot of the ship’s location on Saturday night, noting that it was the only passenger vessel in the Bay of Biscay at the time of the storm.
One passenger shared footage with the BBC of the waves hitting the ship, as a crew member reported a “code alpha” – the code for an onboard medical emergency – in the dining room.
Another told of how the captain warned passengers over the intercom to sit or lie down, and said they were “holding on for dear life.”
All passengers have now disembarked.
A spokesperson for the company said in a statement:
“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 back, having sailed home in calmer seas.”
The ship has now turned around and is back on the water for its next cruise. It was last tracked off the coast of southern England, having departed Portsmouth for Lisbon, according to tracking website Vesselfinder. The route will take the ship through the Bay of Biscay again – hopefully with a smoother crossing this time.