Travellers sue cruise firm over iceberg near miss

A DOCTOR, a bank director and the chairman of a law firm are spearheading a seven-figure High Court damages claim by British cruise ship passengers injured when a glacier shed chunks of ice onto the deck of their luxury liner.

The MV Alexy Maryshev was on a 10-day sightseeing cruise in the Arctic around the Norwegian island of Spitzbergen when the Hornbreen glacier "calved" an iceberg, creating massive shockwaves and littering the deck of the ship with slabs of ice.

The ship, which was carrying 48 passengers, all British, had stopped near the glacier for passengers to take photographs and some of those injured were standing on the foredeck of the vessel when the ice and waves struck, London's High Court heard.

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Now 16 injured tourists, including a bank director who suffered a fractured skull, have launched damages claims against tour operators Discover the World, based in Banstead, Surrey, who sold them the 2,495 cruise packages, but who deny all liability in the case.

Among them are Valerie Greaves, 49, of Trap Lane, Sheffield, who suffered shoulder injuries and Donald Reid, 59, of Bearsden, near Glasgow, chairman of Glasgow-based law firm Mitchells Roberton, whose injuries included a fractured clavicle and scapula.

Bank director, Andrew Burnett, 31, of Prestwood, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, sustained a fractured skull and is suing alongside his wife, Leigh.

Also claiming compensation are Philip Lawson, of Quorn, Loughborough, who suffered fractured ribs and David Michael Bishop, of Derby Road, Ambergate, Derbyshire, who sustained multiple fractures and life threatening lung injuries.

During a preliminary hearing at London's High Court, before Mr Justice Blair, Nigel Cooper QC, for Dr Lawson and others, said several of the passengers had photographs to back up their case that the vessel had been steered dangerously close to the glacier.

"A number of them were actually standing on the foredeck as the glacier calved and there is an issue as to how close the vessel was. A number of the claimants have photographs showing the proximity of the vessel just before and just after the incident," he said.

But he added: "There may be an issue as to the timing of when the photographs were taken and when the incident occurred."

Mr Cooper added that other issues will include "the magnitude of the surge waves" caused by the falling ice, "the nature of the vessel's response" and the "foreseeability" of the incident.

The local safety regime and the code of safe navigation in Arctic waters would also have a part to play in the case, he said.

Mr Justice Blair heard that the claims of most of the passengers, who suffered relatively minor injuries, would amount to less than 50,000 each. But Nicholas Saunders, for Mr Burnett, said he would be lodging a "substantial" claim for loss of earnings.

The trial on the issue of liability, set to last five to six days, is expected to commence at the High Court in March next year, with a pre-trial review in January or February, the court heard.

Mr Justice Blair also directed that the trial judge should have the assistance of an expert nautical assessor if required.

The incident happened on the afternoon of August 8 in 2007.

The Arctic Ocean and particularly the Svalbard islands are becoming increasingly known as a playground for affluent travellers enjoying climate change tourism.