Boss in QE2 fiasco gets pounds 407,000 pay-off

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John Olsen, the former Cunard boss who lost his job after the disastrous refit of the QE2, left the company with a payment of pounds 407,000, it emerged yesterday.

The deal included pounds 232,000 as compensation for loss of office, a year's salary of pounds 163,000 and pounds 12,000 in allowances and benefits. In the previous year to the end of September, Mr Olsen's package amounted to pounds 290,000. He was on a one-year rolling contract.

The figures are revealed in the annual report of Cunard's parent company, Trafalgar House, which last month announced it had plunged into the red to the tune of pounds 321m in the year to the end of September with the Cunard liner division losing pounds 16.4m at the operating level. Its engineering businesses also reported huge losses.

The dramatic deficit is in stark contrast to the previous 12 months when the group made a pre-tax profit of pounds 45.6m.

Mr Olsen left the group following the shambolic pounds 30m refit of the QE2. The 67,000-ton liner, which is fitted out every two years, was returned to service in December 1994 before the overhaul had been completed. Passengers on a Christmas voyage to New York complained of "Niagaras" of dirty water in toilets, corridors blocked by "unsecured materials" and a fenced off swimming pool. The ship was refused clearance to sail from New York when coastguards insisted certain jobs be completed before the liner could continue to the Caribbean.

Passengers claimed that they had been exposed to asbestos while workmen tried frantically to finish the refit as the ship sailed. The company paid out refunds of pounds 8,000 and offered alternative cruises for 500 passengers left at Southampton. About 540 passengers who did sail also received payments.

Last November, a US court approved a pounds 7.5m settlement offer to 2,000 passengers who suffered on the cruise.