Cruise ship sails into a kidnap carry-on

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The Independent Online
WHEN the 517 Russian and Ukrainian passengers on board the Taras Shevchenko set sail from Odessa on 30 May for a three-week Mediterranean cruise, they were looking forward to disembarking in 12 ports in seven countries.

Exotic shopping, clubbing and encounters with interesting foreigners were all in prospect. In the end, they only saw the grand ports from the deck of their ship, and the only holiday encounters they enjoyed were with a sullen captain and his 270-strong crew. They knew something was wrong when they arrived in the Greek port of Piraeus, close to Athens.

They docked there last Monday, but by Friday the captain still hadn't let them off the ship. Having shelled out a minimum of $1,500 a passenger they were beginning to get a little irate.

Some even tried to board the supply barges that came up to the Taras Shevchenko, but the captain stymied their efforts by closing off the exits from the ship.

On Saturday, the passengers sent distress signals to a Turkish coast guard boat as their ship passed through the Dardanelles, from the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea. The Turks called on the Taras Shevchenko captain to stop but he refused, saying, somewhat unconvincingly, that everything was calm on board.

Yesterday, in international waters off Istanbul, the desperate holidaymakers threw messages in plastic bottles begging for help from their consulates to journalists who approached the ship in small boats. "These people have stolen our money. We want our money back," shouted several passengers as they held huge banners reading "SOS Help".

But the pleas fell on deaf ears. Consular officials from Ukraine, Russia and Azerbaijan did indeed visit the ship, but simply called on the passengers to maintain order.

"We were supposed to go to 12 ports and we did not," said Vladimir Kryzhanovskiy an Odessan TV producer . But once the ship had restocked with food, Mr Kryzhanovskiy and everyone else on board were heading back to Odessa.

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