Widow of man killed after Marco Polo cruise ship was hit by freak wave in English Channel slams 'badly maintained' ship and pays tribute to husband

Helen Swinstead paid tribute to her 'lovely husband'

The widow of a man killed after a huge freak storm wave hit a cruise ship in the English Channel has claimed the vessel was "badly maintained".

Helen Swinstead made the comments as she paid tribute to her "lovely husband", James, 85, who was killed on Friday when water crashed through the window of an on board restaurant where they were eating.

Mr Swinstead, a father-of-two, died "almost instantly" after water rushed on board the British cruise ship Marco Polo as it was battered by waves during severe storms.

The incident happened on Valentines Day evening as the Marco Polo cruise ship, operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV), was heading for its home port of Tilbury in Essex at the end of a 42-night voyage.

A number of the 735 mainly British passengers on board the ship were injured, a female passenger in her 70s was airlifted off the ship, while 14 people were treated for minor injuries.


Speaking in Tilbury after the ship docked, Helen Swinstead said: "I think it killed him almost instantly."

"With our insurance I think I'm entitled to £2,000, which won't even cover getting him home to Colchester.

"I think the shipping company should give some sort of compensation. The ship was badly maintained. Four windows blew.

"I said to my husband, because my father used to make paint, that's going to leak because there was a rusty puddle on the window sill. I expect to hear from the Marco Polo.

"He was a lovely husband.

"The crew have been fantastic. I think the ship is improperly maintained. It had come from Madeira before we got on it in January and they had bad storms then.

"There's so much paint on the outside you can't see the rust, they just slop some more on when they get to port.

"It was quite dreadful. I was sitting next to him and this window came in and the sea with it.

"We were all very, very wet. I think a woman was taken to hospital and my husband was going to get on the helicopter but he died before they could get him on it.

"He's never made headline news. He'll be sitting on his cloud chortling."

The couple were sitting in the ship's Waldorf Restaurant when the wave struck.


The vessel, which has been to the Amazon in South America and to the West Indies, arrived back at Tilbury late last night.

Passengers began disembarking the ship from 7am this morning.

Linda Kogan said: "It was horrendous, I've never been in storms like it. The waves were coming up almost over the ship.

"The ship was at an angle. Some people reported the drawers were falling apart and the wardrobe doors falling off.

"A lady was actually thrown out of bed with the force. We weren't in the restaurant when the windows broke but I think it was really scary.

"One lady said it was just like the films with the foamy water and being swept across the restaurant.

"Some people were stunned but on the whole people were quite stoic. The crew were fantastic. Some of the crew were actually injured as well."

Following the incident, CMV said: "CMV regrets to advise that earlier today their cruise ship m/s Marco Polo, en-route to her home port of Tilbury from the Azores, was hit by a freak wave during adverse sea conditions in the south western approaches of the English Channel.

"One elderly passenger has died and a further passenger has been airlifted for further shore-side medical assistance. The vessel sailed from Tilbury on January 5 and is carrying 735 mainly British passengers and 349 crew.

"Our thoughts are very much with these passengers and their families during this difficult time."

Following repair work, the Marco Polo is due to set sail this evening from Tilbury on a scheduled 14-night cruise to Norway and the Land of the Northern Lights.


A spokesman for CMV said it would not comment on Mrs Swinstead's remarks. An investigation is now underway.

Passengers leaving the ship spoke of their "terrifying" experience onboard.

Heather Gratland, from Worcestershire, was in the 6th floor restaurant when the water entered the ship.

She said: "All I remember was one minute I was sitting there and the next my head was under water.

"The lights went out momentarily. Immediately they were ushering us out.

"I was trying to find my shoes and my husband lost his glasses.

"We were very lucky, the ones sitting low, because we were less injured than the people higher up."

Anna Matheson said: "It was frightening. Things were rushing off shelves in the cabin.

"People were really hurt. A man died. It's a shame."

Asked what was going through her mind during the severe sea conditions, she replied: "Are we going to survive? You can't help but feel that.

"The sea was just amazing to watch. It was white all over. It was pretty terrifying."

Jerry Bart said: "We came through the Channel in the most horrendous gales anyone has ever experienced.

"We rode the storm like a bucking bronco.

"I'm just surprised more people were not injured."

Additional reporting by the Press Association