After 72 hours existing on a relentless diet of bread and cold cuts, washing in mineral water and braving the stench of backed up toilets, the passengers of the crippled Costa Allegra limped into the Seychelles today.
Although conditions never quite resembled the Raft of the Medusa, tired and dirty holidaymakers who had paid £5,000 for the 14-day luxury cruise said they had feared they might have to abandon ship when it lost power after a fire on Monday.
Thirty-one Britons were among those offered two weeks rest and recuperation in the luxury Indian Ocean resort by the beleaguered cruise company as they made land safely in Port Victoria.
Some described confusion and panic after a general emergency was declared following the generator fire which saw smoke billowing from the engine room. Others complained they had been treated “like cattle”.
The ship's captain, Niccolo Alba, in only his second voyage in charge, told waiting reporters that the alarm was sounded and the lifeboats were lowered when the Allegra started drifting in waters notorious for pirates.
He praised the 413 strong crew. “They all followed my instructions to the letter, and they all behaved as great professionals,” he said.
Half of the 636 passengers took up the company’s offer of a holiday on the exclusive island of Mahe. The remainder said they wanted to get home to loved ones as soon as possible.
Costa Cruises is battling a public relations crisis in the wake of the incident which follows the capsize of the Costa Concordia last month with the loss of 32 lives.
This time only two people were slightly injured when they fell in the dark which followed the generator fire. One woman was taken away by ambulance when the ship docked and another helped down the gangway.
Despite the presence of the Red Cross no others needed medical attention and the holidaymakers – average age 55 - were instead whisked away to their free accommodation and the promise of a full refund on their cruise.
The main issue was the sweltering heat and lack of air conditioning which turned the luxury cabins and staterooms into stinking no-go areas.
Passengers were forced to sleep on deck and take advantage of the tropical bruise as they were towed to land by a French tuna vessel.
David Tinson from Headley Down, Hampshire, said. “They treated everyone like cattle, with absolute contempt.”
Pam Morrey, from Stoke on Trent, who was celebrating her 60th birthday with a cruise said it was lucky that there had been no serious problems.
“No one was washing, everyone’s hands were in the food, I’m staggered there wasn’t an outbreak of dysentery or something,” she said.
Others were equally relieved. “It could have been worse than it was,” said Gordon Bradwell, 72, from Athens, Georgia who was marking his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife Eleanor. “It could have been disastrous ... we're here, we're alive.”
Austrian doctor Thomas Faller, 66, was more relaxed “It was not dramatic. It was quiet. After (the fire was out) it was just boring,” he said.
The authorities were putting the best gloss on events. “The fact we have a carnival on, the weather is great, and the fact they want to continue their holidays is great for them and great for us,” said Srdjana Janosevic, spokeswoman for the president of the Seychelles. “It means this potentially tragic situation has a happy ending.”