I did some posts about the engine room fire that occurred on Fred Olsen’s Boudicca in January – you can find a couple of them here and here. Recently one of the passengers on the ship contacted me, initially in the form of a blog comment about it. I asked her if she could expand her comments into an account of the experience from her perspective for me to post here, and she kindly agreed to do so.
So here is Marilyn’s account of the events of the 25 January and period immediately after on board Boudicca:
The demise of our 18-night cruise to Cape Verde on Boudicca
“Close fire doors 3, 4 and 5” came loud over the PA system to wake us from sleep at 3.15 am on 25 January 2015. Around 15 minutes later “fire in the engine room, crew are tackling the fire. Stay off the deck and stay in your cabins”.
Expecting to be called to muster shortly, and in quite a panic, we donned our warmest clothes, collected our lifejackets and medicines. By 4.00 am the ship was in darkness except for small emergency lights on deck. We used an old lighter to see the numbers on the safe and retrieve our passports, money and valuables.
We had a balcony cabin on port side, deck 8, and could see and hear the crew running round on the deck below us, all wearing lifejackets and helmets.
We were concerned to see that the small lifeboat (tender) outside our cabin would not be able to launch because its lights and power had gone out. Everything was very black and relatively quiet, with no mechanical sounds, only the lapping of the – luckily calm – North Atlantic. We saw no other ships and could not see any land, The nearest place to us was reported to be Casablanca in Morocco. The passengers in the cabin next to ours came onto their balcony to ask what was happening. They had not heard the captain’s announcement. We suggested they gather their necessities.
Some time later we were told that the fire was out but there was a lot of smoke. The crew were trying to disperse it. For some time we had no information from the captain, but we noticed an increasing list to starboard, then 20 minutes later it changed to an even greater list to port. We could imagine ourselves being under the ship and a great deal of water. All this time the ship was drifting, powerless.
After what seemed like hours, the captain told us not to worry about the list because it was only caused by flooding the affected area to douse the fire. Now the crew had to try to pump the water out.
Some passengers, especially those travelling alone, had come out on deck to find company and the captain told them to return to their cabins so as not to hamper the crew. He told everyone to stay in their cabins and try to get some sleep.
Around 7.30 am dawn gave us more light. Still in fear for our lives, we left a text message for our family, so they would know what had happened to us. Nothing more was heard from the captain for some time, but by around 8.30 am some lighting was restored, the ship was on a more even keel, and we heard other passengers moving around the ship. On investigation we found they were using the stairs to assemble in the restaurants. A basic breakfast was available, without hot drinks. Around half the ship had light and power. The restaurant and cabin crew did a sterling job throughout with what little resources they had.
Around 9.00 am the captain told us that engineers had managed to restore one engine and the ship could start moving slowly. There was disagreement here – some thought he had said we were going “on”. We thought he said we were going “home”, but the ship didn’t turn. Much later he announced we were going on our planned route to Lanzarote, and should arrive there early Tuesday morning. The ship was limping along slowly. There was no power for many things, including lifts. Water had been restored to our bathroom but was dirty and cold for the rest of the day. Mercifully the weather was warm and sunny and shipboard life returned to something near normal, with some planned events going ahead.
Around lunchtime the captain announced that all lighting had been restored, and the lifts began working too. Some of the passengers seemed blissfully unaware of the danger and had slept through much of the night. Others were looking tired and drawn, but most seemed to expect the cruise to continue on its planned route.
As it was Burns night a special cocktail party was announced. We did not attend but the captain is reported to have been very cross that someone had told the internet that we were listing badly, and he said the list had only been 5% (our guess was approx. 20%). The passengers present gave the captain a standing ovation for his handling of the emergency.
By Monday most of the ship’s functions seemed to have returned, except that the air conditioning was not working in most areas for the rest of the voyage, and the ship’s progress was very slow. Unpleasant sooty deposits floated from the funnel onto the open deck’s sunbathers from time to time. At lunchtime the captain announced that he had been in touch with HQ and we were now going direct to Tenerife, where a group of engineers would meet the ship and do an assessment.
We arrived in Santa Cruz around 7.00 pm on Tuesday 27 January. Fred Olsen had arranged some free excursions for passengers the next day. Most passengers seemed to expect a revised route for the rest of our cruise, visiting islands in the Canaries. There was disappointment because most passengers had chosen this cruise to visit Cape Verde. At 5.30 pm on Wednesday, though, a piece of paper came under our door instructing us to pack our cases and have them outside the cabin between 10.00 pm and 3.00 am, and that we were being flown back the next day. There was a meeting at dinner time when we could question the Managing Director of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. He told us the fire had been caused by a burst fuel pipe, and that this was not a matter of maintenance but “could happen at any time”.
Tenerife airport was horrendous the next day, with a three-hour queue for the extra 780 people to check in then await strict security checks before boarding charter planes.
Fred Olsen have refunded the cruise fare but not other expenses. We are left with our old dislike of airports, coupled with a new fear of cruising, especially on ageing ships. Where can we go next?
Many thanks to Marilyn for taking the time to write this very vivid and detailed account of her experiences on board Boudicca during those hours. Not an experience I would have wanted, I think.