Oriana sails in to dispel bad vibes

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The Independent Online
With a flurry of controversy in its wake, the new German-built, 69,153 tonne-Oriana, the pride of P&O's ocean going fleet, was met in Southampton yesterday by a small flotilla of welcoming ships, fire tenders and reassurances from the cruise line that the vessel will not shake its customers to pieces while travelling at speed in rough seas.

With uncanny echoes of the passenger revolt on Cunard's QE2 just before Christmas, it would seem that the curse of the British flagship ocean liner has struck again.

The Oriana suffers unduly from vibrations when it travels at its maximum speed of 26 knots. The effect is thought to be felt especially in the restaurant at the aft of the ship. This is despite an additional sea trial to test a propeller that was damaged on a riverbed near the vessel's dry dock in Germany.

In December the 70,327-tonne QE2 set sail from Southampton before a £30m refit had been completed. Passengers had to sleep on floors, flush their toilets with water from ice buckets, and the new swimming pool was filled with builders' refuse. A spokeswoman for the Oriana's manufacturer's, Mayer Werft, of Papenburg, said that there was "some noise or vibration at high speed in very rough seas" and that some modifications might have to be made to the propellors.

It was not, however, a big problem, she added. The Oriana, which cost £200m, was "a very good vessel with excellent sea going quaIities", but now some more measurements will have to be taken to see if further improvements need to be made.

The new Oriana is successor to a vessel of the same name built by Vickers Armstrong, in Barrow in Furness, in 1959. This cost £14.76m, weighed in at 41,923 tonnes and spent 26 years as a cruise ship before being pensioned off in 1986 as a Japanese maritime museum.

A spokesman for P&O said that the vibration problem on the new vessel only occurred when the ship was running at top speed (24 knots), but the more usual speed was likely to be 22 knots.

Yesterday Lord Sterling, the chairman of P&O, said passengers would not experience any problems as the ship would rarely be travelling at top speed.