WELLINGTON – More than 40 passengers on a cruise ship were injured when it was hit by a storm off New Zealand packing 23-foot waves and powerful winds, officials said Friday.
P&O Cruises corporate affairs director Sandy Olsen said three passengers with broken bones were taken to a hospital in the northern New Zealand city of Auckland after the ship, the Pacific Sun, docked Friday.
The storm hit the vessel on Wednesday night.
Olsen said the vessel was never in danger, although it sustained some "internal damage."
Most of those injured suffered cuts and bruises, with some requiring stitches. Several elderly passengers among the 1,732 passengers and 671 crew left the ship with arms bound in slings.
Chris and Joy Vickers from the North Island city of Tauranga said they were on the top deck when a big wave slammed into the ship, throwing them around "like human rag dolls."
Two women from New Plymouth, on New Zealand's west coast, said it was "like being in a disaster movie."
Erica MacGregor was quoted by the Fairfax Web site as saying people screamed and cried when the storm hit just after dark as many were sitting down for dinner.
"In the dining rooms the tables were bolted down but nothing else was and everything just went flying," she said. "People were desperately trying to grab hold of things to keep safe."
Others told of flying crockery and glasses and sliding furniture as the ship rolled in the heavy seas.
On land, the storm's wind and pounding rain ripped down swathes of trees, cut roads and electricity supplies and flooded tens of thousands of hectares (acres) of farmland. One person drowned in a flooded stream.
The captain had plotted a course from Vanuatu to Auckland to avoid as much of the bad weather as possible, Olsen said, "but on Wednesday evening the weather took a turn for the worse with 23-foot swells and 60 mile an hour winds."
"Loose items did move around the ship when she did take the sharp turn, but the ship was in no danger," she told New Zealand's National Radio.
Technical staff were checking the vessel ahead of its scheduled sailing time Saturday.
"She will only sail if she's in good order," Olsen said.
A group of Australian passengers said they had not felt they were in any real danger.
"It was a little bumpy, but nothing out of the ordinary," Gavin Partridge told TV3 News.
"It rolled a bit, a bit of internal damage when things moved, but that's what happens when ships move," he said. "It was a cruise holiday ... you take whatever Mother Nature dishes out."