Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Thursday, 3 April 2008 13:24 UK

UK cruise ship is held in Madeira

Van Gogh cruise liner
The ship was due to return to the UK on Saturday

Efforts are under way to release a UK cruise ship that has been detained by police in Madeira.

The Van Gogh, which has about 460 passengers on board, was held on Tuesday shortly after it came into Funchal port in the Portuguese isles.

Administrators claim the ship's owners owe 2 million, after taking over the cruise at Christmas.

Van Gogh Cruise Line Ltd said its lawyers were liaising with authorities. One passenger said she was "shocked".

Home straight

The ship is on the final stage of a round-the-world cruise - stops included Egypt, the Caribbean, Ecuador, Tahiti and Cape Town - and had been due back in Falmouth on Saturday.

It set off on 4 January from Falmouth, after its previous operator Travelscope went into administration at Christmas.

A spokesman for Van Gogh Cruise Line Ltd, which is based in Cheltenham and a subsidiary of the Dutch-owned Club Cruise, said it was working with lawyers to get the ship released as quickly as possible.

Passengers said the cruise director had used a public address system to inform passengers that the ship was being held.

They have been told there will be another announcement on Thursday to inform them of the latest situation.

We're in a beautiful place. You couldn't be in a better place to be held ransom
Gladys Hobson

Mark Horwood, managing director of Van Gogh Cruise Line, said the administrators could have waited a few more days, when the ship would have returned to the UK.

"We can't understand why the administrators placed this claim on the vessel in Madeira, rather than waiting for her to arrive in Falmouth - obviously when the passengers would have disembarked and the ship would have been empty," he told the BBC.

He said the administrators had been party to an arrangement which had also involved the travel association, Abta, which had allowed the cruise to go-ahead.

"So they're fully aware of what the programme was - and the fact that she was due to arrive back in Falmouth this coming Saturday," he said.

Paul Clark, of administrators Menzies Corporate Restructuring (MCR), said they "regretted the inconvenience" - but the action would protect a "viable asset of the company" for creditors.

"We are hopeful that the owners of the vessel will assist us with resolving this issue to avoid any further delay to the cruise," he said.

'Dunkirk spirit'

Actress Shirley Anne Field, who appeared in Alfie with Michael Caine, is one of the passengers.

She told the BBC there was a "fighting spirit" on board.

"They are exceptional, the British people, when thing like this happen," she said.

Gladys Hobson, 64, from South Shields, South Tyneside, is on board the ship with her husband, Wallace.

Locator map

"We were all shocked. Our first reaction was that it was an April Fools' joke. Then we realised it was serious," she said.

Mrs Hobson said many of the passengers were elderly and many relied on supplies of medication and were concerned they could run out if the dispute continued for days.

However, she added: "We're in a beautiful place. You couldn't be in a better place to be held ransom."

Another passenger, who did not want to be identified, described the atmosphere on the ship as being akin to the "Dunkirk spirit" - but said some people were keen to get home.

The passenger said: "Everybody's very happy with the situation and they're relying upon the ship to resolve the problem. One or two passengers would like to leave as soon as possible.

"Some people have to be at work on Monday. Not everybody on board the ship's retired, so they want to get away from here and get back to work, and at the moment they have no real indication of when we will leave and that's the problem."

Semi-final worries

One relative of a passenger was critical.

Vivien Knowles, from Barnsley, south Yorkshire, said: "I was unimpressed with Van Gough Cruises' response when I contacted then for information on Wednesday morning.

"My 76-year-old mother is on board and we were due to take her to Wembley on Sunday to watch the Barnsley v Cardiff FA cup semi-final.

"So not only is she going to miss out on perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we are also going to be out of pocket for her ticket."

Passengers are free to leave the ship.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Abta said it was aware of the situation with the cruise ship and was monitoring it.

However, she said Van Gogh Cruise Lines Ltd was not bonded to Abta.

The Madeira Islands are an autonomous region of Portugal.

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