It is one of the worst storm incidents in recent times. Around 100 cruise passengers were injured after a cruise ship was battered by gale-force winds and 10-metre waves.

Now, as investigators check how Saga Spirit of Discovery became embroiled in the giant storm close to the Canary Islands – most vessels run ahead of such incidents – questions are being asked about what went wrong and why such storms may become more frequent.

According to the UK Telegraph, passengers claimed they begged the captain to put them into port, but were told there was a maritime workers’ strike that prevented it.

The ship departed Britain for a two-week itinerary on October 24, but as it crossed the Bay of Biscay on France’s west coast on Saturday it was decided to abandon the last leg.

Ordinarily, the ship would set a new course to avoid the storm. But while sailing through the Bay of Biscay – notoriously rough seas – the ship’s automatic safety system kicked in.

According to reports, the ship lurched to one side at an alarming pace, causing 100 passengers to suffer minor injuries as they were thrown to the floor and slammed into furniture.

The rough seas in the Bay of Biscay.

Passengers injured

Five were taken to the ship’s medical facility and passengers were left on the open sea for a further 18 hours as the ship waited for the storm to pass.

One passenger told BBC news some of those on board ‘feared for their lives.’

“People were writing texts to their loved ones in case we capsized,’ passenger Richard told BBC News.

“The tone of voice in our captain… he was physically scared. We had crew crying. We had many passengers in awful states of fear.

“To say “minor injuries” is an insult to the many horrific broken bones, pelvises, lacerations, stitches etc. that were caused [to] a very old passenger clientele.”

Jan Bendall, 75 told the London Metro the ship was stationary for about 15 hours whilst ‘caught in the middle of the storm’, during which she and her husband were ‘holding on for dear life’.

“It was quite frightening,” she said. “I’m not somebody who frightens easily… it was quite dramatic.”

Injured Passengers onboard Saga's Spirit of Discovery.
The destruction onboard Saga’s Spirit of Discovery.

“Extremely frightening”

The boss of Saga Nigel Blanks empahsised the ship was safe despite the drama, but added passengers must have found it ‘extremely frightening’.

A company spokesperson said: “Spirit of Discovery was sadly caught in the challenging weather conditions this weekend, as she started her return to the UK. The ship remained safe at all times, but due to the impact of the storm some guests sustained injuries.”

Today’s modern cruise ships are built to withstand storms, avoid them, and even outrun them. Cruise companies follow the weather very carefully, changing itineraries, canceling sailings, and working hard to keep passengers and crew out of harm’s way.

But weather incidents do sometimes happen – which is why passengers who need to avoid bad weather should consider where they book. There are still plenty of itineraries in calm waters.

Overturned cabin furniture and strewn books onboard the Spirit of Discovery.
Overturned cabin furniture and strewn books onboard the Spirit of Discovery.