Page last updated at 06:23 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 07:23 UK

Cruise ship with stranded tourists due back in UK

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Celebrity Eclipse will return on Friday with stranded tourists from Spain

A new £500m liner is due back in the UK with 2,220 stranded tourists on board.

The Celebrity Eclipse left Southampton on Tuesday after putting its inaugural celebrations on hold to help those grounded by the volcanic ash cloud.

The ship docked in Bilbao at 0700 local time (0600 BST) and set sail seven hours later. It is due in Southampton between 1700 and 1900 BST.

HMS Albion arrived in Portsmouth on Wednesday after picking up 730 British military personnel and tourists.

'Massive operation'

The Royal Navy ship picked up 450 service staff and 280 civilians from Santander in Spain.

The Celebrity Eclipse had to put plans to leave on its first two-day cruise on Thursday on hold.

Coaches brought the tourists from across Spain to Bilbao where they boarded the 122,000-tonne liner.

Some of the delayed holidaymakers - including about 500 children - had been stranded for up to seven days.

Nursery worker Karen Griffin, from Edinburgh, was stranded for five days and took two coach trips to get to Bilbao to catch the ship.

She said: "It's been chaotic. We had no rep on the coach and the driver did not speak English.

"We have been fairly happy but no-one has told us what's going on."

'Act of goodwill'

A spokeswoman for Celebrity Cruises called the mission a "massive logistical operation".

President and chief executive of the company Dan Hanrahan said: "This is a bigger logistical challenge than we are used to, but we have everything under control and we will get all the guests on board as fast as possible and into a comfortable bed."

Tour operators requested the voyage to get the tourists home and the cruise firm responded in what was described as "an act of goodwill".

Rescued holidaymakers are travelling back in luxury on the ship, which has a real lawn measuring nearly half-an-acre, as well as bars, 10 restaurants, a casino, a theatre and swimming and spa pools.

Passengers will also be provided with meals and entertainment.

"They will be treated to as much of a regular cruise as possible," she added.



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