(10:15 a.m. EST) -- Despite reports this morning in U.K. publications such as The Sun, citing a "terrifying pirate attack" in which shots were fired, Fred. Olsen maintains that at no point was Balmoral under attack.
In The Sun's article, a crewmember is quoted as reporting home to her boyfriend, "We could hear shooting. It started following us and we had to call the U.S. Navy ... watched through binoculars at men in the fishing boat armed with AK-47 rifles and rocket launchers. They were 300 - 400 metres away. Last night a lot of the passengers -- many are in their 70's and 80's -- were in tears and frightened to death."
However, according to the latest statement from the cruise line, issued today, crew onboard were unable to identify the vessel or its occupants because of the darkness, so there is no conclusive evidence that what appeared to be an attempted pirate attack really was.
"During the incident, searchlights were directed at the approaching craft and flares used to indicate that it had been observed. It is possible that this was interpreted as gunfire, but Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines can state categorically that there was no gunfire, and that although the approaching vessel got to within 400 metres of Balmoral it left the area without incident."
Fred. Olsen's Balmoral, currently on a 104-day world cruise that departed Dover on 14 February, was on alert Tuesday evening following suspicious activity by two boats.
The only passenger report we've uncovered so far was Stuart McKellar's story as reported by metro.co.uk and the Telegraph: "There was concern but it was all quite civilised. The majority of the passengers onboard the ship are elderly but everyone was taken safely back to their cabins."
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--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor, with Reporting by Kelly Ranson, U.K. Editor
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Under the Captain's Table: Piracy Yesterday and Today
What Really Happened Aboard Fred. Olsen's Balmoral?
March 5, 2009