Chaos and screams as cyclone hits cruise ship

By Beck Vass

Cruise ship Pacific Star is again the subject of passenger complaints after being battered by the high seas and winds of Cyclone Funa which smashed glasses, moved fridges and left five passengers injured.

The ship was recently in the limelight after a 46-year-old Auckland woman reported being raped by another passenger in her cabin on New Year's Eve.

"It was chaos, people were screaming," Auckland woman Marilyn Farr said of her eight-day cruise to Vanuatu which returned to Auckland a day late yesterday.

She said she was upset the company running the cruises, P&O, knew about Cyclone Funa and continued sailing into it, becoming caught in the worst of the storm on Sunday night.

"There were people running around with life jackets on because water was coming into their rooms, it was absolute panic," she said. "Everything in the bar area was smashed, everything in the kitchen - all the plates were smashed.

"It [the ship] started rolling from side to side, everything was shaking and it just got worse and worse. The fridges were flying out of their cubbyholes."

Mrs Farr said she was thrown from a chair which landed on her and left her with a bruised arm.

"If they knew the storm was there they should have stayed in Noumea one day more."

Mrs Farr said she and nine family members, including her three children and three grandchildren, found the experience "terrible". She was given medication for shock during the storm and the family was left disappointed after spending $18,000 on the cruise.

Although Mrs Farr had experienced a better trip on the ship last May, she said she would not be travelling with the company again.

Mrs Farr said the worst of the trip was when the ship was turned around and began rolling sideways - something she said occurred without warning. P&O, however, says passengers were warned by an announcement.

P&O public affairs manager Anthony Fisk said five passengers reported injuries which included suspected sprains, bruises and a rib injury caused when someone fell out of bed.

"We had swells of about 7 metres ... that's high and does cause illness on board," he said. "Obviously the weather's out of our control and we know that most of the journey was fine weather. It's just that the cyclone did move around a bit throughout the Pacific. We had to adjust our heading accordingly and, obviously, any inconvenience we apologise for. We've tried to do our best to make sure that passenger safety was paramount.

"We tried as hard as we could to maximise the comfort for the passengers on board."

Mr Fisk said warnings were issued on Sunday asking passengers to take care around the ship and avoid exposed decks. An announcement at 10.50pm asked passengers to return to their cabins or remain seated, explaining that the "rolls" the ship was experiencing were due to two swells coming from different directions.

In July, passengers on the Pacific Star described a holiday in hell after a trip from Auckland to Vanuatu in which the ship got caught up in another storm.

P&O has struggled to restore its reputation after the death of Dianne Brimble on another ship, Pacific Sky, in September 2002.

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