Saga Sapphire Inaugural Cruise Cut Short Due to Engine Problems

April 15, 2012
(6:30 p.m. EDT) -- Already delayed a week because of a shipyard strike, the inaugural voyage of Saga Cruises' Saga Sapphire has now been scuttled in mid-cruise because of engine problems.

The Daily Mirror's John Honeywell first reported in his blog that the recently refurbished ship, due back in Southampton on April 18, is now waylaid in Valencia, Spain, and that passengers (who will receive a full refund and a discount on a future cruise) will be flown back to the U.K. on Monday. Passengers set to embark on Sapphire's next cruise will now be flown by charter to Marseille on April 25.

In a follow-up report, Honeywell notes that the cruise will skip El Ferrol, Spain, and Leixoes, Portugal, and passengers will receive a 50 percent refund.

Saga spokesman Paul Green told Cruise Critic by email Sunday evening that after problems that "could not have been detected or foreseen" developed with one of Sapphire's engines, it was decided to cut the cruise short. Even though the "ship remains safe to sail," Green added, the line "operates on the precautionary principle and will only set off if we have a fully functioning back-up engine." Honeywell reports that "replacement parts are being flown to Valencia and the company is carrying out what it describes as a 'forensic engineering inspection' to discover the cause of the problem."

Sapphire -- which formerly sailed as Croisieres de France's Bleu de France -- has had a difficult journey en route to its maiden voyage for Saga, having faced delays due to striking workers during a nearly four-month refurbishment in the Fincantieri shipyard in Palermo, Italy. The makeover included the addition of 46 balconies to cabins, new restaurants and a "View From the Top" outdoor cinema.

Furthermore, according to Honeywell, while the ship was recently berthed in Southampton, an "inspection by officials from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency uncovered a total of 55 'deficiencies' on board, ranging from lack of training in fire drills, to an incomplete lifeboat inventory. The faults were not considered serious enough for the MCA to detain the ship." In addition, two crewmembers went overboard and were quickly rescued during a March 29 lifeboat drill. The video below shows black smoke pouring out of Sapphire's funnel as it departed from Southampton on its maiden voyage for Saga.

--Video uploaded to YouTube by magwaus

This incident is just the latest in a string of recent cruise ship engine problems. Last week, the Plancius, an ice-class vessel operated by the Dutch company Oceanwide Expeditions, suffered a partial engine failure and stranded its 73 passengers and 42 crew on a South Atlantic island. In March, Azamara Quest suffered an engine room fire that injured five crewmembers and left the ship adrift off the southern Philippines coast. In February, an engine fire left Costa Allegra inert in the Indian Ocean. Cunard's flagship, Queen Mary 2, has also been plagued with engine troubles over the past year.

--by John Deiner, Managing Editor