100 Cruise Passengers Injured in Bay of Biscay Storm

Spirit of Discovery cruise ship
Saga's 58,250 GT cruise ship Spirit of Discovery was battered in a Bay of Biscay storm (Saga file photo)

Published Nov 7, 2023 3:58 PM by The Maritime Executive


A British cruise ship, Saga’s Spirit of Discovery was forced to cut short a cruise returning to the UK on Monday with reports of as many as 15 percent of the passengers aboard having been injured and five taken as a precaution to hospitals. The 58,250 gross ton cruise ship was caught in a fierce Bay of Biscay storm taking the unusual step of going “hove to” in the storm to reduce further injuries and danger for the passengers.

The 774-foot cruise ship, which was built in 2019, was on a two-week trip from Portsmouth, England to the Canary Islands. Reports are that she was carrying 980 passengers. Saga operates cruises for adults only with a minimum age of 50 and reports were that the average age of the passengers aboard this cruise was 75.

The ship had completed most of its trip, although it was forced to forgo a stop at Las Palmas due to the worsening weather. The cruise ship had planned to make a port call in La Corona in northwest Spain on November 5, but it was forces to skip that stop as well when the port closed due to the bad weather. Saturday night, Spanish authorities are reporting they recorded the highest wave determined by an average of a 30-minute period as opposed to a single rogue wave. They set the height at approximately 45 feet along the coast saying it was the highest in 27 years of recording at the Estaca de Bares buoy.



The cruise ship turned north toward the UK, but became caught in a fierce storm in the Bay of Biscay. By some reports, the waves were running between 30 and 45 feet with winds up to 70 mph. Passengers recounting their frightening ordeal said at the height of the storm the captain had asked them to remain seated or to lay down as the cruise ship was being tossed about.

As the storm intensified on Saturday, November 4, passengers reported that the cruise ship took a sudden turn which some described as a “safety maneuver.” It was at that time that most of the injuries occurred with passengers saying that the medical staff was so overwhelmed that they turned a portion of the dining room into an emergency clinic. 

Saga is reporting that most of the injuries were minor but there were reports of lacerations with some people requiring stitches and broken bones. Many passengers reported falling and according to some reports, at least one passenger suffered a broken hip. Between 100 and 150 passengers were reportedly injured.

The passengers told the British media that the captain and crew were “absolutely fantastic,” during the ordeal with the ship remaining mostly stationary with its bow into the storm for 15 hours and making little forward movement. The passengers said they were repeatedly reassured and given regular updates while Saga in its statement emphasized that while the situation was uncomfortable the ship remained safe at all times.

The Spirit of Discovery returned to Portsmouth on Monday evening, November 6, about 12 hours ahead of schedule, and five passengers were transferred to a hospital as a precaution according to the company. The ship also suffered broken windows while passengers posted images online of overturned furniture, broken dishes, and general disarray in areas as the ship was tossed in the seas.

The cruise ship departed as scheduled on November 7 heading to Ponta Delgada in the Azores as the first stop on a month-long cruise to the Caribbean.