Page last updated at 18:59 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 19:59 UK

Volcanic ash tourists arrive home on cruise ships


Some passengers still have to journey across the UK to get home

A cruise ship has arrived at the port of Southampton with 2,200 tourists on board who had been stranded in Spain.

The Celebrity Eclipse put its inaugural celebrations on hold to help passengers unable to return to the UK amid the volcanic ash flight restrictions.

The new £500m cruise liner arrived just before 1700 BST having left Bilbao on Thursday afternoon.

The Thomson cruise ship Island Escape came from Madeira with 1,400 passengers and docked in Falmouth earlier.

The tourists - many of whom had been stranded for up to seven days - had endured overnight coach journeys of up to 16 hours to get to the northern Spanish port.

Molten glass

Guests were treated to beds, food and entertainment on board the ship.

Flights in to and out of the UK and several other European countries were suspended on 15 April after a volcanic eruption in Iceland.

Air traffic control service Nats introduced the restrictions due to volcanic ash in the atmosphere which it said was "simply too dangerous for jet engines to risk commercial flights encountering it".

It was just such a relief to know we were going home at last
A relieved passenger

It feared that if volcanic ash particles were ingested into a jet engine, they would accumulate and clog it with molten glass, which could cause the engine to shut down.

School support worker Alice Hoon and her husband, Chris, were on board with their children Catriona, 20, and Alasdair, 16.

They had been stranded for four days in the Algarve, Portugal, on an all-inclusive trip, but the family were now looking at a further 11-hour journey back to their home, near Oban in Scotland.

'Massive operation'

Mrs Hoon said: "We took the option of the ship because we had to get back as our children have exams.

"We're relieved to be back in the UK and the ship's brilliant, we have loved it.

"We now have a 10-hour journey to Glasgow Airport to pick up our car and then another hour home but we have to do it."

Another passenger told BBC News: "Well, [the journey back to the UK] has been long and tiring.

"The plans have changed so much but when we found out we were on a cruise ship, it was just such a relief to know we were going home at last."

The round-trip on the Celebrity Eclipse lasted just under 24 hours, a spokesman said.

Thomson said two of its cruise ships had been involved in a "significant repatriation programme" in response to six days of UK flight cancellations.

Celebrations to mark the inauguration of the Celebrity Eclipse had to be put on hold to pick up customers of tour operators Thomas Cook, TUI and Co-Op Travel Group.

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.

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

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MSN UK Stranded Britons return on liner - 9 hrs ago
Herald Scotland Travellers stranded by ash return to UK in style - 23 hrs ago
Liverpool Daily Post UK & World News: Britons return as cruise ship docks - 33 hrs ago
Virgin Media Britons return as cruise - 36 hrs ago
Southern Daily Echo Britons return as cruise ship docks - 37 hrs ago

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