Hundreds of British holidaymakers on a Saga cruise were ordered below deck after pirates closed in on their ship off the coast of Tanzania.
Passengers on the $3 100 a head voyage across the Indian Ocean were instructed to stay out of sight on the floor of the main lounge of the Spirit of Adventure.
A fast moving boat carrying armed Somali pirates was first spotted on the vessel’s radar on Wednesday evening as it sped towards the liner.
Pirates operating out of lawless tracts of Somalia have spread their attacks south towards Tanzania and east far beyond the Seychelles in an attempt to avoid surveillance by European naval patrols protecting the international shipping lanes in the Red Sea.
The latest threat came as the cruise liner was 160km out of the port of Zanzibar. The 350 passengers on board the Spirit of Adventure had just sat down to a formal evening dinner. The ship, with a crew of 200, is operated by the British company Acromas, which owns Saga and the AA.
The pirates’ speedboat came within “several hundred metres” of the the Spirit of Adventure, said the cruise ship’s spokesperson Paul Green. “A set of well-rehearsed procedures were put in place, including informing the relevant naval authorities and implementing security measures on board.”
Guests were in the lounge for 45 minutes before the all-clear was given once the pirate ship was 10 nautical miles away. “It was within close range for 10 minutes and came within several hundred metres of the Spirit of Adventure,” said Green. “There was no attempt to board and there was no firing at the ship.”
No previous attempts to board cruise liners have been reported. “I think seeing that the ship was well-prepared, and that it was a cruise ship, they went away,” Green added.
Most of the passengers are British and the rest are thought to be Australians. They are said to have remained calm throughout and gave the Australian captain Frank Allica a standing ovation when he entered the main dining room after dinner was resumed, singing For he’s a jolly good fellow.
Green said: “It’s clearly of concern, but precautions were put in place that are tried and tested and it went off without incident.”
The ship set off from Mauritius on New Year’s Day and is due to finish its journey in Mombasa, Kenya. – guardian.co.uk