An 85-year-old elderly man was killed on impact during a cruise in a “tragic accident” caused by a broken window after it had fallen during a freak wave on the English Channel on Valentine’s Day last year, an inquest has heard.
James Swinstead died on board the British cruise ship Marco Polo while it was sailing through a severe storm on 14 February when it was on its way to the home port of Tilbury in Essex on the last stretch of a 42-night journey from the Caribbean.
Essex Coroner’s Court found that he was killed while sat with his wife Helen at a restaurant table near the window on the 22,000-tonne vessel, which is operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) and registered in the Bahamas.
Two windows were smashed and two others were dislodged but did not shatter.
Forensic pathologist Dr David Rouse told the inquest that Mr Swinstead, of Colchester in Essex, suffered a fractured skull and extensive brain damage after two windows smashed and two others dislodged but did not shatter.
His report found that the death was “consistent with an impact by or against a heavy object such as a window frame” and that the victim suffered injuries that are usually sustained in car accidents, and that he was “effectively dead” after the blow to the head.
John Akhurst, deputy director for the Bahamas Maritime Authority, which carried out an investigation following the incident, said: “There was a great deal of violence and force involved in what happened as the windows were smashed and dislodged.”
He went on: “We could not say with any confidence that there was anything to be alarmed with about the condition of those windows.”
But speaking after the hearing, Mrs Swinstead said that, in hindsight, they had agreed to sit there as there was “a lovely view of a rough sea.”
Her solicitor, Martyn Carr, said: “I don’t think there is any doubt when you look at the photographs those windows look, quite frankly, a bit dodgy.
“Perhaps the strength of the waves was extremely unusual, but you don’t expect to be sitting in a restaurant and have the window come in on you.”
Senior coroner for Essex, Caroline Beasley-Murray, said: “In light of all the evidence that has been heard before this court I shall record a conclusion on the record of inquest - that is answering how he died - that James Malcolm Swinstead died as a result of an accident, a tragic accident.
“He clearly was a much-loved gentleman.”
Addressing Mrs Swinstead directly, she added: “You have had the ordeal of sitting through this inquest this afternoon and you have done that with the utmost dignity.”