There’s good news and bad news for Saga Cruises and passengers looking forward to embarking on the maiden voyage of the company’s newest ship next week.
The good news is that the vessel is on its way to Southampton after a multi-million pound, four-month refit which has transformed the former Bleu de France into Saga Sapphire. The bad news is that, largely due to a series of strikes by shipyard workers at the Fincantieri yard in Palermo, the work over-ran.
The new jewel in Saga’s crown may be glistening, but she will have to delay her maiden voyage, which will now be cut from 23 nights to 16. The ship will be arriving in Southampton next Monday (March 26) on the day it should have been setting out in a blaze of fireworks for a cruise to Venice.
Over the following seven days, final work such as fitting soft furnishings will have to be completed before Sapphire can enter service. The maiden voyage will now depart on April 2, with an abbreviated itinerary
A Saga spokesman told me that the shipyard in Sicily where work was being carried out had been involved in strike action completely outside Saga’s control. “We had built in generous time for contingencies and have had a team of designers, fitters and technicians working around the clock to make up the time that has been lost but unfortunately, the strikes have meant that the ship has been late leaving Italy and this is going to have an impact on the start date of the inaugural cruise.
Saga has contacted all passengers booked on the maiden voyage. “Clearly there has been disappointment – which we understand and share, said the spokesman, “but there has also been great understanding that the issues that arose were beyond our control and the decision to delay was taken with the best interests of customers in mind. We want them to have the best possible experience on their holiday.
“We have tried to keep as much of the original cruise as possible and minimise the disruption – so we have kept the end date intact and will delay the start offering a revised itinerary. This has been carefully arranged to make sure that we can make the most of a variety of interesting ports of call whilst reducing the cruise from 23 nights to 16 nights.”
The revised itinerary is not yet clear. The original schedule included calls at El Ferrol and Cartagena in Spain; Palma, Majorca; Valletta, Malta; Dubrovnik, Sibenik and Hvar, Croatia; Venice, Corfu, Rome, Gibraltar and Lisbon. Sapphire will be back in Southampton on April 18.
A reception on board the ship this Friday, with actor Nigel Havers as guest of honour, has been cancelled.
Saga Sapphire, described in the company’s 2012 brochure as “a timeless ship with a modern twist” will carry 706 passengers. Originally built in 1982 as Europa for Hapag Lloyd, it was most recently operated by CDF Croisieres de France with a capacity of 752.
As well as removing and upgrading cabins, the work Saga has carried out has included installing a multi-level atrium and fitting out new restaurants and galleys.
►Construction of Oceania Cruises’ Riviera was also affected by striking Fincantieri workers. Its launch has been pushed back from April 24 to May 14.