'Aurora' limps back to its German shipyard

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The Independent Online

The £200m superliner Aurora was heading back to docks in Germany today after suffering the most expensive "flat tyre" in history.

The £200m superliner Aurora was heading back to docks in Germany today after suffering the most expensive "flat tyre" in history.

The last night of its inaugural voyage, cut short a mere 16 hours into the 14-night Mediterranean cruise, was nevertheless spent in splendour.

Clad in their finest, the 1,647 passengers passed their last hours on board at a black-tie cocktail party, enjoying complimentary champagne and a mass rendition of "Smile While Your Heart is Aching".

Having dropped its passengers back at Southampton yesterday, the P&O liner was on its way to Hamburg's Blohm and Voss shipyard - which was responsible for the rushed 1994 refit of Cunard's QE2 which led to a New York Christmas voyage dubbed by some passengers the "cruise from hell".

Aurora's Captain Steve Burgoine said the problem, an overheated port propeller shaft bearing, was first discovered at 11pm on Monday - five hours into the voyage - as the ship cruised in the Bay of Biscay off the west coast of France.

"After we had done exhaustive tests it became clear that the risk wasn't worth it to continue with the cruise," he said. "The ship is fantastic and at the end of the day who knows when you're going to have a flat tyre."

The ship is under guarantee, so there will be a discussion as to who will be footing the £6m bill for compensating passengers, said P&O's managing director, Gwyn Hughes. "I can tell you that there will be a number of other parties involved apart from just P&O," he said.

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