Seabourn Heroes Get Queen's Honors

May 24, 2007
Seabourn's Michael Groves, security and safety officer, and Som Bahadur Gurung, master-at-arms, were aboard Seabourn Spirit when that ship was attacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean on November 2005 -- and, as a result of their success in dissuading attack, received just about the highest honor imaginable for civilians last week. They were honored by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II who called them "very courageous."

Groves, from England's Coventry, was awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal. Gurung, who hails from Nepal, received the Queen's Commendation for Bravery. The ceremony took place at Buckingham Palace last week. Their honors were a result of their success in warding off pirates who attacked the luxury Seabourn ship using guns and rocket-propelled launchers. At that time, the ship was cruising 70 miles off the coast of Somalia.

If the incident of modern day piracy targeting a cruise ship isn't interesting enough, check out the details: According to Groves, 10 or so pirates approached just before dawn in two small boats. Passengers were hustled into the dining room, located in the middle of the seven-deck ship as the pirates, using their weaponry, shot holes into the vessel's exterior. While all passengers escaped injury, one woman was actually in her bathroom when a grenade landed in her cabin.

As Groves and Gurung were making ready use of a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), which emits a loud noise, Gurung was injured by shrapnel. Groves pulled Gurung to safety and then returned to his post and used a combination of tactics, such as a high-pressure water hose and the ear-splitting LRAD to thwart the pirates from boarding Seabourn Spirit; they were otherwise unarmed. The captain was able to turn the ship and depart at a fast enough speed to make a successful getaway.

Groves may have kept his cool under pretty ultimate duress, but he was positively gushing when he told Cruise Critic about his experience at Buckingham Palace. "Som and I were particularly delighted to meet Her Majesty, a woman we have both served most of our adult lives in one way or another. We felt very honored and she was delightful.

"It was also," he added, "touching that other recipients (such as knights, various Order of the British Empire award recipients and senior military officers) came to shake our hands and say how amazed they were by the citation and our actions."

Groves also told Cruise Critic that he suffered hearing loss when a rocket propelled grenade landed close to him while on deck readying the LRAD.

In a statement, Seabourn says that "Mr. Michael Groves served as a security officer onboard Seabourn Spirit, where he performed his duties admirably during the attempted act of piracy in 2005. His actions certainly contributed to the ship's successful evasion of the attack, which has earned him official commendation and our sincere and lasting gratitude. We are delighted that the award of the Queen's Gallantry Medal has further honored his actions."

Ironically, neither Groves nor Gurung have returned to work at Seabourn though the whys and wherefores are in dispute. Groves told Cruise Critic that he has filed suit against Carnival Corporation, the line's parent company, accusing his bosses of negligence. In his suit, he says that the ship, en route from Egypt to Kenya, was in "blatant violation" of instructions by government entities, including the U.K.'s Department for Transport) to stay at least 170 miles off the coast of Somalia because of the threat of piracy attacks.

A hearing is scheduled for September. In its statement, Seabourn calls the lawsuit "regrettable," noting that "unfortunately because of this ongoing legal action, we cannot comment any further."

--by Fran Golden, Cruise Critic Contributor

Image appears courtesy of Mark Robinson.