Fred. Olsend denies boarding to disabled passenger

(12:23 p.m. GMT) -- A disabled woman has been prevented from cruising on a Fred. Olsen ship departing from Liverpool Cruise Terminal due to her being unable to get out of her wheelchair.

Fred. Olsen told John Fisher and his wheelchair-bound wife Ann they could not take a cruise on Boudicca for a seven-night Emerald Island cruise departing on 30 May -- despite the couple previously taking two cruises on the same ship.

Fred. Olsen declined the latest booking because it could no longer offer assistance to wheelchair-bound passengers, a spokesperson explained.

However, the line is completely in its rights to refuse a booking to any passenger unable to walk unaided up a gangway, according to an exception clause in the EU Passenger Bill of Rights.

The full statement in the EU Bill reads: "Whilst every effort will be made to take a booking, a request to travel can be refused by the operator on the grounds of safety. This will usually relate to the legal requirement to evacuate all passengers from a vessel in 30 minutes, though it may also be where the design of the ship, or port infrastructure, makes it impossible to carry you in a safe or operationally feasible manner."

On the two previous occasions Fred. Olsen crew members had carried the Mrs Fisher in her wheelchair up the gangway. The cruise line however claim that there have been incidences where crew members have sustained injuries as a result of carrying guests which has led to a review of their assisted boarding policy.

A Fred. Olsen spokesperson explained: "Since the vessel's gangway is stepped and the angle is subject to considerable tidal variation, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines requires all guests disembarking or embarking at the Port of Liverpool to be able to walk up or down the gangway with minimal assistance from either a crew member or suitably able-bodied travelling companion.”

She added: "Whilst Liverpool Cruise Terminal provides Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines with facilities to enable less-mobile guests to gain access to the berth […] they do not provide an overhead air bridge or a gangway, which means that we are dependent upon our own ship's stepped gangway for the embarkation/disembarkation of all guests."

When asked why Fred. had changed its policy, which previously allowed the couple to board, she explained: "This decision follows a subsequent risk assessment into the health and safety of both of guests and crew in this situation. For instance, there have been regrettable incidences where crew members have sustained injuries as a result of carrying guests, especially as the width of the gangway makes it very restrictive.

"We conduct regular risk assessments to ensure that our operational procedures and practices are as safe as possible, and these are constantly reviewed."

A Liverpool City Council representative explained: "With some older ships [like Fred. Olsen's Black Watch and Boudicca] the gangway arrangement can be extremely steep. However we are keen to work with [Fred. Olsen] to explore a solution to overcome the challenges Fred. Olsen is currently experiencing regarding wheelchair access."

While Liverpool Cruise Terminal is fully compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act, many other U.K. ports do provide air bridges, ramps or dedicated porters to facilities wheelchair-user access, such as Southampton and Dover.

--By Leon Beckenham, Cruise Critic contributor and Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor