Titanic Memorial Cruise has been forced to turn round just hours after leaving the dock, having set sail to retrace the doomed liner’s voyage across the Atlantic.
MS Balmoral – carrying relatives of Titanic victims among its 1,309 passengers, the same number as on the doomed ship – was forced to turn around and head towards the Irish coast after a passenger became unwell on board.
A spokesperson for the Titanic Memorial Cruise, which had earlier been battered by 30 ft waves as it crossed the Irish Sea, said the ship turned around and headed 20 nautical miles east so the passenger could be picked up by a Coastguard helicopter and flown to hospital for medical attention.
Earlier on its historic voyage the MS Balmoral had been delayed by two hours before docking at Cobh on the south coast of Ireland, the Titanic’s last port of call before its journey into the North Atlantic.
This afternoon reports indicated it was forced to turn round because of a medical emergency on board. It is believed it is heading closer to the mainland so a helicopter could land onboard.
A spokesman for the Met Office in UK said this afternoon that sea conditions off the coast of southern Ireland were “rough or very rough”.
There were 15 ft high waves and 20 mph winds in the area which would not affect a ship of that size.
A statement from the Titanic Memorial Cruise this afternoon said the liner had to turn round after a passenger was taken ill on board.
The statement said: “A guest has been taken ill on board the Titanic Memorial Cruise taking place on the Fred. Olsen cruise ship Balmoral.
“The ship is turning around and heading approximately 20 nautical miles east to bring it nearer to the coast and within reach of a helicopter.
“Fred. Olsen and Titanic Memorial Cruises are working with the Irish Coastguard to co-ordinate the relevant arrangements, and making sure that all agencies involved are being kept informed.
“The ship is currently travelling en route to New York and departed Southampton on 8 April 2012.
“At Fred. Olsen and Titanic Memorial Cruises the safety and well-being of all guests and crew is paramount, and this decision has been made in conjunction with Titanic Memorial Cruises, as charterer of Balmoral for this voyage.
“Once the guest is off the ship for medical treatment the cruise will resume as scheduled.”
Passengers making the journey came from more than 20 countries, including the U.S., and include relatives of survivors, authors, historians and people who are fascinated by the Titanic story.
The cruise set sail from Southampton on Sunday and aims to reach the Titanic’s wreck site for a memorial ceremony to mark the moment the liner struck an iceberg on April 14 100 years ago.
But bad weather delayed its arrival yesterday at Cobh, where it was reported a lifeboat was on hand in case of problems.
A passenger said after docking: “There is a bad feeling on board that maybe the voyage is doomed by bad luck.”
The Balmoral was due to continue its journey late last night.
From the wreck site, the memorial cruise was due to go to Nova Scotia, where some of the Titanic’s victims are buried, and then on to New York, the destination the ship never reached.
Once there, passengers will leave wreaths and family artifacts in memory of those who died.
During the 12-night cruise passengers were due to eat meals from the Titanic’s original menu and attend lectures given by historians and experts.
A five-piece band will recreate the soundtrack from the era for passengers.
The Titanic hit an iceberg on April 14, 1912 and sank the following morning, claiming 1,517 lives.
On the anniversary, passengers will gather on deck for a memorial ceremony at 11:40 p.m., the exact time the ship hit the iceberg, exactly 100 years on.
Another service will be held at 2:20 a.m. to mark the moment it sank.
Speaking before the delays Philip Littlejohn, grandson of survivor Alexander James Littlejohn, and the only Titanic relative to have made the dive to the wreck site, said: “I’m sure my grandfather, a 1st Class Steward on RMS Titanic, would be proud to know his story will be shared with the passengers on this historic cruise.
“It will be an emotional moment when we are over the wreck site, where I dived in 2001, and where my grandfather left Titanic rowing Lifeboat 13.”
Passengers have paid up to £6,000 ($9,500) to join the commemorative voyage.
Miles Morgan, managing director of Miles Morgan Travel, which chartered the journey, said: “This cruise has been five years in the making and we have sought to make it authentic to the era and a sympathetic memorial to the passengers and crew who lost their lives.”
Dozens of artifacts from the world’s most famous ship have emerged since it sank on April 15, 1912.
Numerous events have also taken place in the lead up to the 100th anniversary of its sinking.
The Belfast shipyard where the Titanic was built has been revitalized in time for the landmark date, while an eye-catching, dockside centre opened just weeks before the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.