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Freak waves slam into cruise ship

Thursday, March 4, 2010 - 11:28am

BARCELONA, Spain – Monstrous waves that smashed into a Mediterranean cruise ship flooded people's cabins, broke windows in a restaurant and sent terrified travelers screaming for doctors, passengers said Thursday.

Claude Cremex, 73, of Marseille, France said he was in his cabin resting because of rough seas when the walls of water hit the Cypriot-owned Louis Majesty, which was carrying 1,350 passengers and 580 crew members off the coast of northeastern Spain.

"A lot of water came in. Many cabins were flooded," said Cremex, who was traveling with his wife. "Many people were very frightened," he told The Associated Press.

Cremex said he did not see the waves himself but later viewed the damage. "It was spectacular," he said as the ship sat docked at Barcelona's port with passengers sunning themselves on deck the day after the accident.

Amateur video footage taken by a passenger and aired on Spanish television showed the instant when a huge, foamy wave hit what appeared to be a restaurant or lounge area, blowing out the window, triggering screams and sending shin-high water gushing along the floor. A woman is heard crying in the background.

The ship's owner and operator, Louis Cruise Lines, said the vessel was struck Wednesday by three "abnormally high" waves more than 33 feet (10 meters) high that broke glass windshields in the forward section. Two people died and 14 were slightly hurt, the company said.

Large waves are not rare in the Mediterranean, but ones that size occur only once or twice a year, said Marta de Alfonso, an oceanographer with the Spanish government.

"Suddenly we saw a wave that went up above our level, and I said to my husband, 'tonight we will not have to wash the windows,'" said Claudine Armand of France, who was in her cabin at that point. "Right then we heard we heard a loud noise, and it was the wave that hit us."

"When we came out of the room we saw the wave had flooded everything," she told Associated Press Television News.

Pierre Languillon, also of France, said damage was extensive and he saw many people with superficial injuries.

"They called for doctors, as many doctors as there were. Luckily nothing happened to us, but I think we averted a catastrophe."

Louis Cruise Lines spokesman Michael Maratheftis said 14 passengers who suffered only minor injuries were taken to hospital as a precaution.

Arrangements have been made to fly all 1,350 passengers back home Thursday and the ship will carry on with its normal cruise schedule later this month after repairs are completed, he told the AP from Cyprus.

Maratheftis said the two dead passengers — a German and an Italian — suffered fatal injuries from the glass shards and ripped-out window frames and furniture.

"It was three waves, one after the other. The damage was done by the second and the third waves. We are talking about waves that exceeded 10 meters in height. This was unforeseen and unpredicted because the weather was not really that bad," Maratheftis said.

De Alfonso said there was in fact a big storm in the area at the time and the waves might have been stirred up by fierce winds. Waves often come in threes, she said.

Another passenger, Jean Claude Fery, of Marseille, said he was in his cabin looking out the porthole at tremendously turbulent seas. "I have never seen waves so big. It was unbelievable."

A Louis Cruise Lines statement said the waves smashed windows in a public area on deck 5 on the forward part of the vessel.

The ship was on a 12-day cruise from the ports of Genoa and Marseilles in the western Mediterranean, calling at Tangiers, Casablanca, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Cadiz, Cartagena, Barcelona and had been due to return to Genoa on Thursday.

Maratheftis said many passengers have already left the ship to return home.

Louis Cruise Lines' Web site says the ship is 680 feet (207 meters) long, and features 10 passenger decks and 732 staterooms along with various bars, pools, restaurants and shops.

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