Black Watch at sea

Updated, July 4, 5.25 p.m. BST -- Black Watch passengers began to arrive back to the U.K. on three private charter aircraft into two London airports -- Stansted and Gatwick -- this afternoon. The cruise line will be providing a support team of senior personnel at the two airports in order to assist and advise guests, where necessary. Special arrangements are being made for those guests who are unable to fly back to the U.K. for medical reasons.

The cruise line has also confirmed all passengers will receive a full refund of the cruise fare, as well as "any reasonable out of pocket expenses connected with the curtailment of their holidays". In addition, Fred. Olsen will offer a future cruise voucher of up to 50 per cent of the fare paid, to be used within its current cruise program.

(8.00 p.m. EDT) -- Almost 700 passengers are expected be returned to the U.K by private aircraft after a fire on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ Black Watch.

The fire started in the engine room on Friday morning and was extinguished by the crew. There were no injuries, and Captain Henrik Mattsson has reported that passengers “are in good spirits”. 

According to a statement from the cruise line, the fire damaged three out of seven auxiliary engines, which generate electrical power on the ship.

“There has been some cabling damage on board, which is affecting lighting and communications, but all other services are working as normal. However, the cabling damage has prevented the other two main engines from running, and it is anticipated that the repairs will cause disruption to guests during the recabling. Therefore, we have made the decision -- in the best interests of guests’ comfort and enjoyment -- to fly them home from Funchal. Our intention is to charter a private aircraft for our guests back to the U.K over the next few days, at Fred. Olsen’s expense.”

The two main engines were restored to full power and the ship continued to its next scheduled port of call, Funchal, in Madeira.

“We are hopeful that all four main engines will be under way shortly,” Fred.Olsen said in an updated statement posted on its website. “The weather conditions are good and sea conditions calm. We will continue to work to restore full auxiliary power on board.”

Mike Rodwell, the company's managing director, and a support team of senior executives were expected to join the ship in Funchal to assist the 696 mostly British passengers and 365 crew. Passengers will be compensated for “loss of enjoyment and facilities during the power outage”.

Launched in 1972, Black Watch was on a 13-night ‘Portuguese Island & Cities’ cruise that departed Dover on 25 June. It is not yet clear if other departures will be affected.

“We hope that Black Watch will be able to undertake her next cruise -- a nine-night ‘Norwegian Fjords’ cruise from Tilbury on 8 July 2016 -- as scheduled,” the line said.

Many cabins have no electricity, hot water or operational toilets, passengers have commented on Cruise Critic. We have contacted Fred. Olsen Cruise Line for further details and will provide updates over the weekend.

--By Louise Goldsbury, Australia Editor