Missed ports, power cuts and late return on Sapphire’s early voyages were due to mechanical problems, says Oliver Smith.
Saga Cruises has sought to reassure passengers about the reliability of its newest ship following a series of on-board mechanical problems.Saga Sapphire, the replacement for the popular Saga Ruby, the last British-built cruise ship in service, which is due to be retired next year, had to curtail its inaugural cruise in April because of engine trouble.A trip to Norway in June was also hit by complications, and last week another engine fault delayed the ship’s return to Britain from a voyage in the Baltic.
Passengers on board the Norwegian cruise complained after the 31-year-old vessel, which Saga bought from a Brazilian operator and refurbished at the start of the year, missed several ports of call following problems with a bow thruster, and subsequently a generator.The cruise, billed as a “Voyage to the North Cape”, was unable to visit the North Cape, nor was it able to call at Svolvaer, Honningsvåg, Geiranger or Eidfjord. Arrival at Bergen was also late, leaving passengers little time to visit the town.
Passengers also reported that there were power cuts and problems with the air conditioning – an issue highlighted by Jane Archer, the Telegraph’s cruise correspondent, in her recent, and otherwise positive, review of the ship.“The whole point of the cruise was to visit the fjords and the North Cape,” said Malcolm Billingsley, 71, a retired teacher from north London. “We missed the North Cape and the three most famous fjords. Many of those on board were loyal fans of Saga – I’ve sailed twice on Ruby and had no such problems.”
Mr Billingsley’s comments are echoed by several other holidaymakers, in emails seen by Telegraph Travel. Some passengers suggested that the problems arose from the ship’s age: it was built in 1981.Paul Green, Saga’s director of communications, said: “The problems in Norway could not be foreseen and were not due to the ship’s age. Sapphire is a £67 million investment in the future of our fleet, and it is on the way to becoming a firm favourite with our customers.”
Mr Green added that, in a survey of passengers on Sapphire’s most recent cruise to Norway, 99 per cent rated their experience as “excellent” or “good”.According to Jane Archer, the refurbishment of older ships is not unusual practice in the cruise industry.“Although it cost Saga millions to overhaul and improve Sapphire, it would have cost many millions more to build a new ship,” she said.Mr Green said that most problems with the air conditioning had been fixed and the power cuts were caused by work to fix the generator.
All affected passengers have subsequently been offered a refund of 40 per cent by Saga or a 50 per cent discount on a future cruise, but some felt the offer did not go far enough.Richard West, 66, from Sutton, who was on the June cruise, said: “I understand that problems of this sort do sometimes occur, but Saga has not fulfilled its obligations. The only way for me to see all the places we missed will be to book another voyage to Norway – so I feel entitled to a replacement cruise.”Saga also confirmed that a “minor” problem occurred on Saga Sapphire during last week’s return from a Baltic cruise, which meant the ship had to sail into Dover using only one engine, but that it was fixed overnight. – Telegraph