Grand voyage is off as Aurora limps back to port

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of disappointed cruise passengers were heading back to Southampton today after P&O finally cancelled the much-delayed world cruise of its £200 million luxury liner Aurora.

Hundreds of disappointed cruise passengers were heading back to Southampton today after P&O finally cancelled the much-delayed world cruise of its £200 million luxury liner Aurora.

The ill-fated vessel should have left on the cruise on 9 January but has suffered propulsion system problems.

She finally left Southampton last night but overnight tests on the repairs showed that the vessel could not "achieve the required speed to complete the Grand Voyage".

The vessel was heading back to Southampton where it was expected to arrive at midnight, with passengers disembarking from 8.30am tomorrow.

P&0 now faces a bill of around £30 million in refunds and compensation.

The company said: "P&O Cruises apologises for the disappointment this has caused passengers and offers its assurance that everything possible was done to get Aurora's Grand Voyage under way before this difficult but unavoidable decision was taken.

"Passengers will be refunded their full fare together with compensation of 25 per cent of the amount paid for their holiday to be used as a future cruise credit on a cruise holiday booked before the end of January 2007.

"We would like to thank passengers for their support and patience during this time."

With more than 1,750 passengers on board, Aurora had been due to take in 23 countries and 40 ports of call on the world cruise.

Passengers paid between £9,800 to £41,985 for the 103-day trip of a lifetime but until yesterday the ship got no further than the Isle of Wight.

A few lone passengers wrapped up in wintry clothes had waved goodbye to the docks for what they hoped was the last time before starting the cruise.

Around 1,367 passengers had remained on board, enjoying free drinks, accommodation and entertainment, while 385 people jumped ship after the delays and repair work began.

P&O brought in what was described as the "comedy cavalry", including Jimmy Tarbuck, Paul Daniels and Tom O'Connor, to console the long-suffering passengers.

The cruise's itinerary had been changed as a result of the delays with some of the 40 stops missed out and the ship coming home via the Suez Canal and not the Panama Canal.

Acapulco, Barbados, Honolulu and San Francisco were among some of the 16 ports that were being missed out.

The German-built ship entered service in 2000 after being launched by the Princess Royal. As she blessed her, the traditional champagne bottle did not break, which was considered a bad omen.

Ill fortune quickly followed when the liner broke down in the Bay of Biscay on her maiden voyage and limped back into Southampton. Passengers were given a free cruise and the compensation bill topped £6 million.

In October 2003, the liner was dubbed the "plague ship" after an outbreak of the contagious norovirus on board laid 600 passengers and crew low.

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