About 100 cruise ship passengers were injured last week when a fierce storm — which had cut short their scheduled trip around the Canary Islands — ended up hitting the ship in the Bay of Biscay as it routed back to the United Kingdom. Five passengers needed treatment in onboard medical facilities for more serious injuries, while the rest were described as minor.
Nigel Banks, the CEO of British company Saga Cruises, said Spirit of Discovery had safely returned to the U.K. and all passengers had disembarked in a statement to CBS News on Thursday.
"We have apologised to all our guests who experienced such difficult weather conditions; we know that this was a very distressing experience for them," Banks said in the statement.
Spirit of Discovery was carrying roughly 1,000 passengers on a two-week journey from Portsmouth, in southern England, through the Canary Islands off the western coast of Spain. The 14-night "Canary Island Quintet" cruise, operated by Saga Cruises, left from Portsmouth on Oct. 24 and completed the first nine days of its prepared itinerary before beginning to confront a bout of bad weather.
Conditions prompted the ship's captain to cancel their next planned stop in Las Palmas, where they were due to travel from the capital of Fuerteventura, another place in the Canary Islands, on Nov. 2. Instead, Spirit of Discovery changed directions to route toward the northwestern tip of mainland Spain, where the captain intended to dock the ship at La Coruña.
But while en route to the Spanish seaside town on the edge of the Bay of Biscay, the captain received word that the port at La Coruña would be closed because of bad weather. Hoping to stay ahead of the storm, the captain decided to start routing Spirit of Discovery back to the U.K. earlier than originally planned.
Spirit of Discovery encountered massive, tumultuous waves while crossing the Bay of Biscay, a body of water bordering Span and France that is known at times for especially turbulent currents. While crossing the bay, the ship's propulsion safety system activated and caused it to jerk suddenly to one direction, which essentially brought the vessel to a halt.
A social media user on X said their parents were passengers on Spirit of Discovery during the cruise.
"My elderly parents on board the Saga Spirit of Discovery and have also had a horrendous time in the storm, including getting flung to the floor in the dining room with tables and crockery falling on them," the post read, adding, "Why did the captain rush from the Canaries into the storm?"
One passenger, Alan Grisedale, filmed the enormous waves that rocked Spirit of Discovery in the Bay of Biscay and shared the footage with BBC News. Grisedale said the force against the ship was so great that his wife was knocked over, and furniture was pushed around inside their cabin, the BBC reported. Another passenger on the ship recalled in comments to the BBC that "tables were flying" and waves were "throwing people around all up and down the place."
Jan Bendall, a 75-year-old passenger who had taken the cruise with her husband, told the BBC that Spirit of Discovery remained stationary in the Bay of Biscay for about 15 hours while "caught in the middle of the storm." Bendall said that she and her husband were "holding on for dear life."
Banks, the cruise line's CEO, said the crew did "everything we could" to keep passengers safe.
"We operate to the highest health and safety protocols and every decision was made based on advice from the ship's Master and forecasts from our dedicated marine meteorologists," Banks said in his statement. "We did everything we could at all times to keep our guests as safe as possible and to support them through the storm, including expert medical attention for those injured. I want to thank our guests for their patience and understanding and all our crew, who went over and above to care for everyone onboard."