Britons fly out to join QE2 inquiry

AS THE Queen Elizabeth 2 was heading for dry dock in Boston yesterday with a 24m (74ft) gash in her side, a British Department of Transport team was flying out to join the American investigation of the ship's collision with an underwater hazard, writes Andrew Gliniecki. All 1,815 passengers were evacuated by ferry to Newport, Rhode Island, after the ship began shipping water in Buzzards Bay, 10 miles off the Massachusetts coast on Friday, at the end of a five-day cruise from New York to Nova Scotia.

Navin Sawhney, Cunard's vice-president (marketing and planning), said from New York last night: 'Based on current information, we anticipate that she will re-enter service on 18 August, to make the trip from New York to Southampton.'

He praised the rescue operation, adding: 'Certainly, the passengers kept things in perspective, although you will find some had a more difficult time than others.'

US Coastguard chief petty officer James Whisenhunt said that, apart from the long gash in the QE2's side, there were other cracks about 1/2 in wide and as long as 64ft, and the ballast and fuel tanks had been ruptured.

Most passengers were from the New York area and went home after being taken to the city by train; others were found hotel places in New York. Cunard is offering a variety of refunds, travel credits and flights to the UK to people whose planned QE2 cruises that have now been cancelled.

The 66,000-tonne ship was being guided by John Hadley, a coastal pilot working for Northeast Pilots, who has submitted to routine drug and alchohol tests, as has the ship's captain, Robin Woodall, and several officers.

Mr Hadley reported that the QE2 was in waters at least 35ft deep, a safe margin for the vessel, which requires only 31ft to navigate safely.

The QE2 was travelling past a series of small islands dotting the shallow waters off Buzzards Bay when it ran aground. The cruise ship Bermuda Star ran aground in the same area on 10 June 1990, spilling about 7,500 gallons of heavy fuel oil into Buzzards Bay.

The Marine Safety Office at Providence, Rhode Island, said a pilot was responsible for safe navigation but ultimate responsibility for a ship always fell to her master.

Passengers, mostly untroubled by the incident, yesterday described what happened when the ship ran aground. Tom Clancy, a best-selling thriller writer, said: 'It was no big deal. Just an inconvenience.'

(Photograph omitted)