The thick black clouds billowing from the funnel of Saga Sapphire (after about 25 seconds) as the ship pulled away from the quayside at the start of her inaugural voyage do not, I am assured, presage the engine failure which has brought the cruise to a premature end.
Indeed, there’s no such smoke apparent in the second video, which shows the vessel’s spectacular arrival at El Ferrol in northern Spain two days later – looking resplendent in her new livery with a light blue funnel instead of the familiar buff colour of her sister ships.
But I have also realised that the maiden was delayed by a further day from the revised schedule. Originally due to commence on March 26, the cruise was deferred for a week, and cut from 23 nights to 16 because of the late departure from the Palermo shipyard where a four-month refit was carried out.
Instead of leaving Southampton on Monday April 2, the ship did not leave until the following day. As reported yesterday, the ship is now in Valencia awaiting engine repairs, and passengers will be flown home tomorrow instead of sailing into Southampton on Wednesday.
It has also emerged that Sapphire’s week in Southampton was not without incident.
An inspection by officials from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency uncovered a total of 55 “deficiencies” on board, ranging from lack of training in fire drills, to an incomplete lifeboat inventory. The faults were not considered serious enough for the MCA to detain the ship.
The Marine Accident Investigation Bureau is also holding an inquiry into an incident in which two crewmembers went overboard from a lifeboat during a drill on March 29.
A Saga spokesman said the heavy smoke was the result of the ship sitting in Southampton for a week. He added: “The MCA were on board for a total of five days with six inspectors – so that’s 30 man days. As with any MCA inspection, there were points of minor clarification and minor actions. These were non-material points. As points were made they were dealt with. All 55 items have been addressed and the ship will be re-inspected shortly.
“During a crew drill, one of the boats lurched while the bowsing tackle was eased off and two crew members fell into the water. Both were wearing life jackets, they were quickly recovered and were both back on board that evening having been checked out ashore.
“As this accident took place in a UK port, we called MAIB to come and make an investigation so that the learning outcomes can be shared with others.”
After engine repairs have been carried out in Valencia, Sapphire’s next cruise will begin on April 25 from Marseille. Passengers will be taken to the ship by charter flight; those who prefer not to fly will be delivered by road or train. The cruise will omit two ports of call, El Ferrol in Spain and Leixoes in Portugal, and passengers will receive a 50 per cent refund.