Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Widow hits out after ship death

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The widow of a man killed when a huge wave hit a cruise ship in the English Channel has criticised the "badly maintained" vessel as she paid tribute to her "lovely husband".

Helen Swinstead said her husband James, 85, died "almost instantly" after he was struck by a window as water crashed on to the British cruise ship Marco Polo during severe storms.

The 22,000-tonne vessel, operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV), was heading for its home port of Tilbury in Essex at the end of a 42-night voyage when the incident happened on Valentine's Day.

Mr Swinstead, a father of two from Colchester, Essex, was sitting with his wife onboard when the water crashed through a window beside him.

A number of the 735 passengers, who were mainly British, were injured including a female passenger in her 70s who was airlifted off the ship. Another 14 people were treated for minor injuries.

Speaking in Tilbury after the ship docked, Mrs Swinstead said: "My husband was hit by the window. I think it killed him almost instantly.

"With our insurance I think I'm entitled to £2,000, which won't even cover getting him home to Colchester.

"I think the shipping company should give some sort of compensation. The ship was badly maintained. Four windows blew.

"I said to my husband, because my father used to make paint, that's going to leak because there was a rusty puddle on the window sill. I expect to hear from the Marco Polo.

"He was a lovely husband.

"The crew have been fantastic. I think the ship is improperly maintained. It had come from Madeira before we got on it in January and they had bad storms then.

"There's so much paint on the outside you can't see the rust, they just slop some more on when they get to port.

"It was quite dreadful. I was sitting next to him and this window came in and the sea with it.

"We were all very, very wet. I think a woman was taken to hospital and my husband was going to get on the helicopter but he died before they could get him on it.

"He's never made headline news. He'll be sitting on his cloud chortling."

A spokesman for CMV said it would not comment on Mrs Swinstead's remarks.

Following the incident on Friday, the company said: "CMV regrets to advise that earlier today their cruise ship m/s Marco Polo, en-route to her home port of Tilbury from the Azores, was hit by a freak wave during adverse sea conditions in the south-western approaches of the English Channel.

"One elderly passenger has died and a further passenger has been airlifted for further shore-side medical assistance. The vessel sailed from Tilbury on January 5 and is carrying 735 mainly British passengers and 349 crew.

"Our thoughts are very much with these passengers and their families during this difficult time."

The vessel, which has been to the Amazon in South America and to the West Indies, arrived back at Tilbury late last night.

Passengers leaving the ship earlier today spoke of their "terrifying" experience onboard.

Linda Kogan said: "It was horrendous, I've never been in storms like it. The waves were coming up almost over the ship.

"The ship was at an angle. Some people reported the drawers were falling apart and the wardrobe doors falling off.

"A lady was actually thrown out of bed with the force. We weren't in the restaurant when the windows broke but I think it was really scary.

"One lady said it was just like the films with the foamy water and being swept across the restaurant.

"Some people were stunned but on the whole people were quite stoic. The crew were fantastic. Some of the crew were actually injured as well."

The wave caused damage to the ship's Waldorf Restaurant.

Heather Gratland, from Worcestershire, was in the sixth-floor restaurant when the water entered the ship.

She said: "All I remember was one minute I was sitting there and the next my head was under water.

"The lights went out momentarily. Immediately they were ushering us out.

"I was trying to find my shoes and my husband lost his glasses.

"We were very lucky, the ones sitting low, because we were less injured than the people higher up."

Anna Matheson said: "It was frightening. Things were rushing off shelves in the cabin.

"People were really hurt. A man died. It's a shame."

Asked what was going through her mind during the severe sea conditions, she replied: "Are we going to survive? You can't help but feel that.

"The sea was just amazing to watch. It was white all over. It was pretty terrifying."

Jerry Bart said: "We came through the Channel in the most horrendous gales anyone has ever experienced.

"We rode the storm like a bucking bronco.

"I'm just surprised more people were not injured."

Following repair work, the Marco Polo is due to set sail this evening from Tilbury on a scheduled 14-night cruise to Norway and the Land of the Northern Lights.

CMV issued a statement this afternoon in which the company said the Marco Polo had undergone "stringent and rigorous surveys" and regular inspections.

Christian Verhounig, chief executive of CMV, said: "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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