The damaged ship will not now leave until February 20th -- some six weeks after her original departure date -- cutting the cruise from 109 days to 66 days.
Saga is currently contacting all those passengers affected by the delay, and those who have booked and paid for sectors of the cruise that will now be omitted.
The 25,000-ton, 655-passenger ship was due to leave Southampton on January 7th, but just hours before her planned departure engineers discovered a faulty crank shaft. Some 300 passengers had already arrived and most spent the night onboard, before being sent home the next day to await news. At the time, no one had cancelled, but a spokesman confirmed that 10 people are “considering cancelling” after this latest setback.
It was hoped that Ruby would be ready to depart this Thursday (17 January) at the latest, but the 40-year-old ship needs spare parts, and to go through sea trials, before it can now set sail.
Saga has decided to omit the middle sector of the cruise around Cape Horn and across the south Pacific via Easter Island and Pitcairn Island to New Zealand. However the start of the cruise -- along the east coast of South America -- and the end sector -- from Cape Town and up the coast of West Africa, via Namibia, Ghana and Sierra Leone, before returning to the U.K., will remain the same. There are 70 passengers who have booked on this final sector, who are unaffected by the delay.
The line will also add extra ports including the remote British protectorate of Tristan da Cuhna in the South Atlantic, Puerto Madrin in Brazil and Dakar, Senegal. It will also add special events such as a samba night in Rio de Janeiro (where the ship will stay an extra day), a tango night in Buenos Aires, and a night at the opera in Cape Town to see the opening night of Verdi's Otello, at no extra cost. Saga Ruby will also call at Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, despite ongoing protests from Argentina at British ships calling in at the disputed territory.
A spokesman for Saga said: “The passengers will receive compensation for all the days lost as well as a ‘gesture of good will', as we don't want anybody to be disappointed.”
It is the second time in three months that Saga Ruby has had engine problems: in November the ship arrived at the port of Porto in Portugal with engine trouble serious enough to force the line to cancel the remainder of the cruise back to Southampton. It was sent for a three week-long dry-dock in Bremerhaven, Germany, at the cost of £4 million, which included refurbishments as well as a complete plant and machinery overhaul.
Asked why the crank shaft problem wasn't discovered then, the spokesman responded: “It is deeply disappointing that it wasn't discovered at that time.”
Saga Ruby was built in 1973 and is the last ship to have been built in the U.K. This year is her 40th -- or Ruby -- anniversary, and she is due to retire in 2014. It has sailed under two previous incarnations: Vistafjord and Caronia, when it became part of Cunard's fleet. Saga bought the vessel in 2004 and has spent £17 million refurbishing it. During that period she has suffered just three days out of service, according to the spokesperson.
The ship's farewell voyage, a 31-night Christmas cruise to the Caribbean, is scheduled to leave Southampton on December 7, 2013.
--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor