QE2 holed . . . but the party goes on

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HUNDREDS of passengers were still marooned at sea aboard the luxury cruise liner Queen Elizabeth 2 last night as she took in water after running aground off the east coast of the United States.

None of the 1,800 passengers, or 1,000 crew was hurt. But the damage suggested there could easily have been a tragedy. One- third of the 963ft vessel's hull was reported damaged and leaking oil was bubbling around her as she was refloated and anchored off Massachusetts.

Cunard, the QE2's owner, said she was in no danger of sinking despite being holed beneath the waterline. The ship's pumps were able to cope with the leaks, a Cunard spokesman said. The passengers were boarding the ferry Schamonchi for a two-hour trip to Newport, Rhode Island, where they would be taken to Providence and then by train to New York, a US coastguard spokesman said. A second ferry was en route to the scene. The Schamonchi can hold about 640 people.

Passengers lived it up as they waited to be rescued from the crippled liner. 'The passengers are partying on board,' said a Cunard official. 'They'll be roaring when they get off.'

Coastguard officials boarded the QE2 soon after she ran aground at 3.20am London time yesterday (22.20 Friday night US east coast time) to interview her master, Captain Robin Woodall, assess damage and investigate the accident. It emerged that an American pilot had been guiding the 13-deck vessel through hazardous shipping channels in the area after a day trip from New York to Martha's Vineyard.

'The US pilot is responsible for providing recommendations to the captain of the vessel. But the captain still has the ultimate authority,' a coastguard spokesman said. Ronald Santangelo, a senior Cunard official, said the incident had forced Cunard to cancel the QE2's next two transatlantic crossings. He said the liner would be moved to the nearest dry dock for repairs.

Full report, page 10