- Richard Reynolds, 60, says furniture and glass were flying in every direction
A passenger on board the Saga cruise ship that was battered by storms as it crossed the Bay of Biscay has revealed people on board were screaming for their lives as 30ft waves battered the windows.
Richard Reynolds, 60, who was on the Spirit of Discovery along 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 floor while he and others were confined to their cabins where passengers wrote final messages to family members on their phones and wore lifejackets non-stop for two days in case the ship capsized.
He said: ‘The whole experience was horrendous. Waves were coming up to the fifth storey windows, people were screaming and furniture and plates and glass were flying in every direction.
‘I am ex-military and fire service and I have dealt with a lot of traumatic experiences in my career but this up there with the worst of them.
‘People were screaming for their lives, things were banging and crashing around us and they thought they were going to die.
‘We were confined to our cabins for two days, we were laying in bed fully clothed with life jackets on.
‘I know other passengers wrote notes on their phones to loved ones because they didn’t think they were going to make it out of there.
‘We were there chaperoning my elderly parents, my mother was in the medical ward because she had a fall. They were so swamped they had to turn the main dining room into a makeshift first aid area because it was completely overrun.
‘She witnessed somebody being resuscitated by three members of staff and they are saying there were only minor injuries?’
The ship departed Britain on October 24 for a two-week cruise but on Saturday the decision was made to abandon the final few days and turn back to the UK to avoid the oncoming tempest.
But while sailing through the Bay of Biscay, the punishing winds and choppy waters caught up with them, and around 12:30pm the conditions were so rough that the ship’s automatic safety system was activated.
The vessel’s engines fired and jerked the ship into a tight turn, which allegedly caused injuries, but Mr Reynolds says many passengers had been injured before this happened.
He also said he believed the true number injured is closer to 150 than 100.
He added: ‘There were 980 passengers on board and we heard that over 150 people were injured, that’s 15% of passengers when the average age was 76.
‘People had broken hips, my mother had a fall and thankfully she was ok but she was kept in the medical bay where somebody had to be resuscitated in front of her. These weren’t minor injuries.
‘To subject the passengers to these extreme conditions then whitewash what is going on is totally unacceptable.’
The five more seriously injured passengers were treated at the ship’s medical centre and were taken to hospital last night as a precaution after the vessel finally arrived at Portsmouth Harbour.
Responding to questions over the decision to return to the UK via the Bay of Biscay, Saga contended that continuing on the original tour or choosing an alternate route would have meant confronting the storm head-on.
The crew had initially planned to moor at La Coruna port in Northwestern Spain, but were informed while en route the port had been closed due to bad weather, forcing them to continue north and traverse Biscay on the way to the UK.
The company maintains that the ship was adequately prepared for the anticipated challenging conditions.
But Mr Reynolds claims Saga prioritised getting the ship back ready for the next cruise.
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 we were trying to get ahead of if. All they cared about was getting back in time for the next cruise.
‘They put getting the boat back ahead of safety. I was tracking this storm on my phone two days before we got to it, they thought they could get ahead of it but we were left trapped in the storm with 14 metre waves and 70 mph winds.’
A Saga Cruises statement said: ‘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 on their way home in calmer seas.’