Video: Norfolk man describes moment passenger was killed aboard Marco Polo cruise ship during horror storm

Library picture of Dr Moss Taylor. Library picture of Dr Moss Taylor.

Monday, February 17, 2014
9:53 AM

A Norfolk man has described the moment a passenger was killed by a flying glass window during storms on a cruise ship as a “Valentine’s Day massacre”.

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The Marco Polo cruise ship operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV), docked at Tilbury in Essex, after passenger James Swinstead, 85, a father-of-two from Colchester, Essex, died "almost instantly" after water rushed on board the British cruise ship as it was battered by waves during severe storms. Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA WireThe Marco Polo cruise ship operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV), docked at Tilbury in Essex, after passenger James Swinstead, 85, a father-of-two from Colchester, Essex, died "almost instantly" after water rushed on board the British cruise ship as it was battered by waves during severe storms. Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Sitting just tables away from the 85-year-old man who died after a huge wave hit the British cruise ship, Marco Polo, in the English Channel, Moss Taylor, of Sheringham, described scenes which sounded like something out of a disaster movie.

The retired GP, of Heath Road, now works as a wildlife lecturer on cruise ships, but this year decided to take a holiday aboard one instead and booked a last-minute deal in November with his partner Robina Churchyard, 75.

He said: “There seemed to be a bad omen right from the start of the cruise. As the ship was leaving Tilbury it swung in the wind, knocked into the pier, and we heard a bad sound of wood splintering.

“It was a windy day and portholes in cabins blew open too – it was an inauspicious start.”

Robina Churchyard on deck during a happier part of the voyage; Photo: Moss Taylor.Robina Churchyard on deck during a happier part of the voyage; Photo: Moss Taylor.

The 22,000-tonne vessel, operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV), began its voyage on January 5 and was heading for its home port of Tilbury, in Essex, at the end of a 42-night voyage when the incident happened on February 14 – Valentine’s Day.

“That’s when the storm really struck – it was like a Valentine’s Day massacre. We knew it was going to be bad weather that day”

During breakfast that morning Dr Taylor was thrown out of his chair as the weather began to get worse.

“Plates and glasses we sliding off the table because of the angle of the ship,” the 70-year-old added. “As a result the bistro was closed.

“On the deck the wind force was 10 to 11 with swells of 30ft.”

During that morning the weather deteriorated and the couple decided to eat lunch earlier. They arrived in the restaurant on deck six and sat at the last port-side table.

Had they arrived just minutes later they would have sat on the starboard side, where James Swinstead, of Colchester, Essex, was sitting with his wife when the water crashed through a window beside him.

Dr Taylor said: “It was just sheer luck we went to lunch earlier. I don’t think it was a freak wave that hit us, it was just that the weather was so bad.

“The ship was going from side to side and you could see nothing but the sea out of the portholes.

“Suddenly there was an almighty crash and water smashed in through the windows – the force of the wave had pushed the glass out of the frames. Two glass windows flew across like flying saucers.”

Dr Taylor said he saw one of the windows hit Mr Swinstead, who was sitting by the window, on the back of the head.

“Then the water began to come in; this was how bad the waves were. The water flooded in and became about two feet deep. People were being thrown out of their seats by the lurch of the ship, they were laying on the ground and the waiters were taken off their feet.

“People were being fished out of the water too.”

Dr Taylor described the experience as “very, very frightening”.

A number of the 735 passengers, who were mainly British, were injured, including a female passenger in her 70s who was airlifted off the ship. Another 14 people were treated for minor injuries.

Following the incident on Friday, the company said: “CMV regrets to advise that their cruise ship m/s Marco Polo, en-route to her home port of Tilbury from the Azores, was hit by a freak wave during adverse sea conditions in the south-western approaches of the English Channel.

“Our thoughts are very much with these passengers and their families during this difficult time.”

The vessel, which had been to the Amazon in South America and to the West Indies, arrived back at Tilbury late last night.

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