QE2 passengers tell of scene from `Alien'

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Cunard promised last night to compensate passengers on the QE2 after they threatened to sue because conditions were so bad. Their luxury cruise across the Atlantic has turned into a shambles with workmen drilling, equipment lying around and many facilities unfinished.

Their fury will again embarrass Cunard, which had to turn 500 passengers away when the luxury liner left Southampton on Saturday because a £30m refit had not been completed. Yesterday individual compensation packages for those unable to sail were agreed by Cunard, but not before a public relations fiasco, when protesting passengers were refused entrance to the shipping line's offices in London.

Those on board were as angry as those left behind. "It is like being in an unfinished Spanish hotel except that we are about 900 miles west of Ireland and we can't get off," Peter Ludlow, of Camberley, Surrey, said last night. He and his fiancee, Merrilyn Wesley, paid £7,400 for their two-week Christmas cruise to New York and the Caribbean. At 8am they were awakened by drilling above their cabin.

"In the corridor outside there are still a floor sweeper, a lifejacket and a roll of carpet which have been there since we left on Saturday night," said Mr Ludlow, 48, a diamond-setter. "In one of the bars there is so much welding equipment lying around that it looks like a scene from the film Alien."

Fifty of the 600 passengers met and discussed suing Cunard unless they got refunds. But Eric Flounders, spokesman for Cunard, said last night: "It has always been our intention that people travelling will get compensation of some kind because conditions on board are not what they would expect."

The QE2's problems stem from the inability of some British contractors to finish work on cabins in time. Some passengers unable to board in Southampton will be flown to New York later this week to join the ship, and others have accepted a free cruise next year. All will get refunds.

That deal was struck yesterday after David Steene, who spent £19,000 on the cruise for his family, waited for more than three hours outside Cunard's headquarters. Mr Steene, who set up an action group, arrived with his solicitor, but found the doors locked. Other passengers were also refused entry.

After negotiations, Mr Steene said: "I have received an unreserved apology . . . and I have been assured by a director of Cunard . . . that satisfactory individual alternative arrangements for all other passengers have been made."