Court clears way for nightmare cruise claims

HOLIDAYMAKERS who endured a nightmare Atlantic voyage when their cruise ship was lashed by high winds and a passenger died have had their compensation hopes boosted by a High Court ruling.

Norman and Linda Marsh, of Daytona Quay, were among passengers on board the MV Athena when it was hit by a three-day storm in September 2006.

Those on board say they were bumped and bruised when they fell over or were thrown from their bunks on the pitching and rolling vessel.

One passenger died when he fell down stairs between decks and others say they have nightmare flashbacks to the cruise.

Seventeen passengers are suing the Athena’s owners and operators for thousands of pounds in damages, but faced claims at the High Court that, six years after the storm hit, memories have faded and it is now too late to have a fair trial.

However, Mr Justice Teare today handed the passengers victory in that preliminary skirmish when he ruled that the delay – although “at the very least unsatisfactory” – should not stand in the way of their claims being given a full hearing.

That trial, at which surviving passengers, the ship’s master and other members of the crew will testify, is expected to take place at the High Court later this year, or possibly early in 2013.

Mr and Mrs Marsh were booked on the 24-day “Maple Leaf Cruise” from Falmouth, Cornwall,to New York, New England and Canada in September 2006 and were looking forward to visiting Nova Scotia and Maine before sailing into the Big Apple.

But the trip of a lifetime turned into a holiday from hell when the ship hit heavy storms and high winds on its way to North America.

Lawyers for the pair and other passengers are making 16 allegations of negligence against the ship’s owners and operators, including alleged failures to protect holidaymakers and not warning them to secure their mattresses and stay in their cabins during the storms.

The case is being defended by Classic International Cruises S.A and Arcalia Shipping Company Limited who deny liability and argued at the High Court that the delay in bringing the cases to court meant that a fair hearing of the claims was impossible.

Mr Justice Teare acknowledged that the delay in pursuing the case was “beyond anything that could be considered acceptable”.

The defendants have had difficulty tracing crucial potential witnesses, including the ship’s safety officer, and memories of the storm had been muddled and faded by the years.

However, opening the way for the passengers to pursue their cases to trial, the judge said the prejudice to the defendants caused by the delay was not so severe as to justify striking out the claims without a full hearing.