A WESTBOURNE Road couple who witnessed the aftermath of a cruise holiday tragedy have spoken of their shock.
Chimneysweep Tony Gissing and his wife Enid were halfway through a two-week cruise on board the Thomson Majesty when the boat hit the headlines worldwide following the death of five crew members during a routine safety exercise.
The accident occurred on 10 February at the resort of Santa Cruz on the Canary Islands.
Mr and Mrs Gissing had been on an excursion and returned to their boat to find it surrounded with emergency vehicles.
“There were just police and ambulances everywhere,” said Mrs Gissing, who booked her holiday through Getaway Travel on Flowergate. She added: “One of the Thomson reps said ‘There has been an issue involving eight crew members but it has been dealt with. Please make your way back to the ship carefully’.”
Rumours quickly began to circulate around the luxury cruiseship, which carries 600 crew. Some passengers even recalled seeing bodies floating in the water.
However, for the grieving crew, work entertaining the ship’s 1,600 guests had to continue. Mr Gissing explained: “There was a strange air there. All the staff were trying to keep going with a smile on their faces, but there was an element of sadness.”
The following morning, with investigations underway to discover the cause of the tragedy, passengers were advised to head off into the resort, where the annual carnival festivities were taking place.
Thn, when they returned to the ship later in the day, the passengers were informed their holiday had been cancelled and they were to return home earlier than expected.
The captain also read out the names of those who had died and sounded one long blast on the ship’s horn, to signal the start of a minute’s silence.
Mr Gissing said the couple regularly go on cruises, but this was the first time they had visited the Canaries. However, he added that the experience is unlikely to put them off cruise holidays in future. He said: “I think for people that were cruising for the first time, it would put them off for life, but we have been on many cruises before.”
Five crew members died and three more were injured in the accident, which occurred during a routine safety exercise when winches pulling the lifeboat back on board snapped. The liferaft, carrying the eight crewmembers, dropped 17 metres to the water below before overturning.
Testing lifeboats has a long history of accidents, with estimates suggesting around 15% of all seafaring deaths involve lifeboat drills.