A 40th wedding anniversary took a dramatic turn that left a British couple stranded on a Caribbean island.
Pam and Martin Mullan, from County Derry, boarded the luxury cruise ship Carnival Freedom at Port Canaveral in Orlando on Monday along with some 2,500 other passengers.
They were looking forward to a five-day cruise. But as the 110,000 ton vessel prepared to make its first stop at Grand Turk in the Dominican Republic at around 7am on Thursday, fire broke out in one of its funnels.
The couple recalled that when the alarm was first raised, they woke up briefly and then – assuming it was just a practice drill – rolled over and went back to sleep.
It wasn’t until a little while later, as the sounds of panic from outside increased, that they realised that it was no drill.
Martin told his local paper Derry Now that while the crew were trying to keep passengers calm, “you could see they were nervous”.
He described a chaotic scene, with elderly people and children needing a lot of help and becoming upset.
The crew of another ship that was also docked at Grand Turk helped put out the blaze.
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"It is a miracle that it happened while we were coming into port,” said Martin. “They said if it happened, even 15, 20 miles out to sea, it could have been an entirely different situation”.
He said that the crew of the other ship were concerned that the blaze might spread to their own vessel.
By 8.40am, the ship’s 2,500 passengers and 1,100 crew had safely evacuated but Carnival Freedom was deemed unseaworthy and passengers and crew alike were left stranded on the island.
Pam said: "We tried our best to enjoy the island, the first day was taken up completely with the evacuation but we did our best on the second day to chill and take it all in.
After two days of being marooned, the passengers were collected by another ship. “When the other ship came to get us all, it was extremely moving,” said Pam. “The captain and all the crew, the chefs and everything, were standing with massive 'Welcome' signs on the side of the ship. It was a very emotional scene."
The cause of the blaze remains unknown.
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