Death on Marco Polo – was the last voyage an omen?

Marco Polo: Guests had complained before about injuries in rough seas (Picture: CMV)

Marco Polo: Guests had complained before about injuries in rough seas (Picture: CMV)

Leading the British news today has been the death on board the Marco Polo cruise ship as it headed back to Tilbury in Essex through fierce storms in the Channel on Valentine’s Day.

Passenger James Swinstead, 85, died ‘almost instantly’ as a wave crashed through the window of the Waldorf restaurant. Fourteen other people were injured, including a woman airlifted to hospital.

Friday’s storm had been widely forecast. In Southampton, P&O Cruises held Oceana – which, at 77,000 tonnes is more than three times the size of Marco Polo – in port from Thursday until Saturday to avoid forecast swells of up to 15 metres, or nearly 50ft.

Marco Polo, due to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, is one of the smallest and oldest cruise ships sailing from Britain. Its recent Christmas and new year voyage to Madeira in the Canary Islands was described by passengers on CruiseCritic.co.uk forums as ‘the cruise of horrors’, ‘the cruise to Hell and back’, ‘dreadful’ and ‘horrendous’.

One passenger wrote: ‘Confined to our cabin due to force 10 gales and mountainous seas. it was unsafe to attempt passageways and stairs as the lift was out of action. Fitments and wardrobes decanted our possessions, bottles and glasses smashed and i was nursing a bang on the head for days when i collided with the toilet door. Sadly, the medical centre already had 17 patients with broken limbs and more. Eventually some were flown back to the UK.’

Another said: ‘The captain knew we were going into bad weather but there was nothing done to prevent accidents and to protect the safety of passengers and crew. Tables were not fastened down. chairs were lightweight and sitting [on] smooth floors in some of the lounges. When the ship rocked these chairs and other heavy items that were not secured to the floor moved, causing injury to passengers.’

A third added: ‘This ship isn’t furnished or fitted for very bad weather, furniture is not fixed and in very bad weather, as we experienced, and all furniture in the public areas was flying everywhere, and I do mean flying, and some passengers were seriously injured as well as many minor injuries.’

In its latest media statement, Marco Polo’s owners Cruise & Maritime Voyages said the ship had been cleared to sail on a 14-night cruise to Norway with 791 passengers on board.

Chief executive Christian Verhounig commented: ‘Our thoughts and prayers go out to the passengers and their families affected during this difficult time.

‘The safety and comfort of our passengers is and will always be of paramount importance. Marco Polo undergoes stringent and rigorous surveys and is inspected regularly including a recent annual dry docking survey and certification. Marco Polo is a purpose-built deep sea ocean-going liner maintained and serviced in full compliance of strict British and International maritime regulations and is efficiently manned by a professional and dedicated crew. She also has the added advantage of an ice-strengthened hull designed for special voyages to the Arctic and Antarctica Polar regions.

‘We have been touched by the overwhelming level of support received from passengers who experienced the freak wave incident and the fulsome praise extended to the captain, his officers and hard working crew and also by many of our customers who cruise with us regularly onboard the much-loved Marco Polo.’

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