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Saturday, 2 October 2010

Funchal Cruise 5th September 2010 Part 3 (the final one)

Funchal Cruise Part 3 (the final one)

Wednesday 8th September 2010
The ship arrived alongside the ship-like terminal building in Ceuta before sunrise, so I watched dawn breaking just before the excursion coaches left the rain-soaked quayside for their visit to Tetouan in Morocco.

Ceuta is a very small Spanish city, an enclave located in north Africa, sharing a border with Morocco. I find it interesting that the Spanish Government object to the British ‘ownership’ of Gibraltar, but seem to have no problem with the Spanish ‘ownership’ of Ceuta, but life offers many points to ponder…

We had time for a leisurely breakfast before I set out to walk around the town and see the castle. The early morning rain had stopped, the sky was clearing and the heat rising so it was all very pleasant. I went into several ferry company ticket offices but there were few brochures available, so I walked into the walled town and took photos of the lovely FUNCHAL. I noticed well-kept gardens, mostly filled with stray cats, which made a change from the usual stray dogs!

On my way back I heard ambulance noises, and saw what I called ‘an ambulance chaser’ i.e. someone in another vehicle following the ambulance, with a very large camera on his shoulder, who was videoing everything as he went. As I approached the quayside I realised the ambulance was approaching the ship, followed by several police cars and more ambulances. That was worrying, as I knew the four of us were all doing independent things this morning.

As I reached the entrance gate to the quay and ship I could hardly believe my eyes: everywhere there were dozens of people sitting in white plastic chairs, with bandages, blue towels, neck braces, blood, plaster casts and other signs of injuries. I couldn’t believe my eyes and had to hurry on board to see what had happened, and check that my dear friends were all right. The dreadful news was that one of the excursion coaches that had been travelling in convoy had skidded off the road near Tetouan in Morocco and fallen down into a ravine or gully. Nine people had been killed and many injured. Some of the injured had been brought back to the ship on the other coach, while many others were taken to four different hospitals to be treated.

Some injured were treated on the quayside, some were able to get back on the ship, but it was all so dreadful. There was nothing we could do to help, but I found that on board one or two ladies came up to me and patted my arm and asked whether I was all right, and my friends, and I did the same to them. I think everyone on board was in shock, injured or otherwise, and it was hard to settle to anything. Everyone talked to everyone else, for reassurance as much as anything.

FUNCHAL remained in port and we were told that the ship would stay in Ceuta until injured passengers could be released from their hospitals and that is what happened. All entertainment on board was of course cancelled, but the bars did a very busy trade. Day turned to dusk as we were finally told that the ship would be leaving Ceuta and heading fast back to Lisbon, so it was a very sombre scene on board as we sailed away. Dinner was not the expected cheerful last night event; I spoke to the Restaurant Manager and asked him to give our sympathies to the families and injured passengers, and he was most kind and emotional as we spoke and hugged. On deck after dinner we stood looking up at the stars and ship’s wake, and wondering about life. I noticed a small older lady just gazing down the stairs to the well deck, and decided to go and see if she was all right as she was alone. She wasn’t all right, she had lost her friends and life would never be the same again, so it was time for a comforting hug for her and tears for both of us. She patted my face and walked away – poor lady.

Ships seen: Ciudad de Malaga, Jaume III, Euroferrys Pacifica, Celebrity something far off at sea, Breant of Stamp Line, Ceuta Jet (ex Nordic Jet), Ils de Los Volcanos of Peregar

Thursday 9th August 2010
The ship was sailing fast – about 22 knots we think, rather than the usual 18 – to get us back to Lisbon. I like to think that we were listening to the metronomic rhythm of the engines. We had left Ceuta about 7 hours late so we were given an expected time of arrival back at the Alcantara Cruise Terminal of 5.30 p.m. The sea was quite choppy and many passengers were seasick or queasy, just to add to the misery on board, but I think most of us were just relieved to be heading ‘home’. My three friends knew they would miss their daytime flights but my flight was early evening so I hoped I might be able to catch that.

Mealtimes were welcome and very noisy and helped a lot, as we could all be in a crowd and talk.

We arrived back in Lisbon at 5.30 p.m. to find a queue of ambulances lined up on the quayside to take the injured passengers to hospital or home, plus a large crowd waiting behind the ISPS fencing with cameras, and even a helicopter flying over us for some minutes. Whilst we were on deck watching FUNCHAL being tied up, we were excited to see the new Kristina Cruises vessel heading towards us, out of the Cruise Terminal along the River Tagus: it was the KRISTINA KATARINA.

She was soon followed by the cruise ship DISCOVERY, which was another good surprise, as I had never seen her before.

Eventually goodbyes were said, including to the Cruise Director Telmo Miranda, who had been absolutely magnificent in his care and attention to everyone and everything, during the cruise and particularly in the last two days.

I was allowed to leave the ship in due course, with Soren, to try and get my flight home from Lisbon airport that evening and I was successful in that.

Ships seen: Kristina Katarina, Discovery

The cruise on FUNCHAL had been memorable - she is such a little treasure of a ship - and we hope the future conversion work to make her fully SOLAS-compliant will ensure that she is with us for many years to come. Judging by what we have heard of Classic International Cruises and Mr George Potamianos and his love for his ships, we should have no fears for FUNCHAL!

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