Passengers sue again over 'QE2 hell cruise'

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British holiday-makers are bringing a second lawsuit against the owners of the Queen Elizabeth 2 liner over its disastrous Christmas "cruise from hell" last year.

The legal action will be yet another embarrassment for Cunard after a year of public ridicule over the luxury liner's ill-fated cruise to New York in December 1994.

Cunard, which is owned by Trafalgar House, had hoped to end the matter with a pounds 7.5m court settlement two weeks ago in the United States. But British passengers, unhappy about the terms of the US settlement, lodged a claim in a British court last Thursday and served a writ on Cunard on Friday.

Raymond Gorman, 42, managing director of a computer consultancy, of Camberley in Surrey, spent pounds 12,500 taking his family on the QE2 for a Christmas treat, flying to New York on 22 December, joining the liner to cruise the Caribbean and sail back to Britain by 5 January.

But the liner's journey to and from New York, the first after a pounds 30m refit, was cursed from start to finish. Passengers had to be turned away at Southampton because work on their cabins was not finished; dark brown water seeped out of the taps and toilets; carpets were not fitted; cables were strewn around public areas; toilets exploded and passengers alleged that they were exposed to asbestos dust.

A leaked report from the Southampton Port Authority listed failings in equipment and procedures found before the ship sailed. Inspectors found water leaking through a light fitting in the galley, and a missing air vent cover allowed "copious filthy black debris" to blow on to food preparation surfaces.

On the return trip from New York to Southampton the ship was impounded by the US coastguard amid reports that fire doors were blocked by carpets, items were not stowed properly and the ship was not safe.

The Marine Safety Agency said last week that the ship should never have been allowed to leave Southampton after the refit.

The Gorman family found that one of their three cabins was occupied by workmen. All three cabins had filthy brown water or no water at all and one of them smelled of sewage. Entertainments were poor, the restaurant was showered with brown water, and dust from building work gave one of the Gorman children an asthma attack.

Mr Gorman said: "We have issued proceedings against them alleging misrepresentation and we are asking for damages." The family is claiming pounds 27,600 for refunds, loss of earnings and expenses on the trip.

The writ, outlining the horrors of the journey, says: "If at any time between 18 and 21 December 1994 the plaintiffs had been given truthful information concerning the state of the vessel, they would have accepted the defendant's offer [of a refund and a replacement cruise]."

Although many British passengers have accepted refunds and vouchers for another cruise under the terms negotiated in the US, they have until January to opt out and bring their own court actions for compensation.

Moty Levy, a passenger on the same cruise, said yesterday: "I think we have been sold out. I joined the class action on the understanding that the solicitor would get one-third of the settlement and we were expected to get $100,000 each.

"Now he has got a fee of $250,000 and we are getting around $2,000 per passenger. I am writing to him to ask for my papers back and I am going to pursue it in the English courts."

A spokesman for Cunard said: "He has to do what he feels he wants to do. We have had a good reaction to our offer. If he doesn't accept it there is nothing we can do about it."