10 Feb 2017

'It's a pretty horrific thing to happen on a holiday cruise'

10:01 pm on 10 February 2017

Passengers on board the Emerald Princess walked around Dunedin's Port Chalmers in dazed shock today, after a crew member died when a gas cylinder exploded on the ship yesterday.

The Emerald Princess berthed at Port Chalmers.

The Emerald Princess berthed at Port Chalmers. Photo: RNZ / Lydia Anderson

The Filipino man, understood to be a young father, was killed when a cylinder containing compressed nitrogen hit him, before it flew over the railings onto the wharf at Port Chalmers.

More than 3000 passengers were on board the cruise, which was nearing the end of its 12-night tour to New Zealand from Sydney.

The cruise ship left Dunedin just after 9pm this evening.

The ship will go straight to its final destination in Sydney after leaving Dunedin, instead of heading to Milford Sound.

The accident happened around 5pm yesterday as passengers were returning on shuttles from a day spent in Dunedin.

Sue and Dennis Wyatt

Sue and Dennis Wyatt, from Sydney, said everybody on board the cruise ship was in shock. Photo: RNZ / Lydia Anderson

Dennis and Sue Wyatt from Sydney said they had talked to fellow passengers who witnessed the fatality, and were traumatised by what they saw.

"It's a pretty horrific thing to happen on a holiday cruise," he said.

On-board counselling had been offered to passengers, Mr Wyatt said.

His wife Sue said it was difficult to face the reality of what had happened.

"Everybody's just in shock. We're just all walking around looking at each other and if you talk about it you start feeling like you want to cry."

She said their cabin attendant had been a friend of the killed crewman, and when she spoke to him about the accident, he put his arms around her and wanted a hug.

"The sadness of the crew is just overwhelming," she said.

"They're such a close-knit community and to lose one of their friends... it's just awful."

Ms Wyatt said passengers had wandered around the ship quietly after Captain William Kent announced there had been an accident.

"The captain was so shaken up, he was in such distress.

"You could tell, he had to keep stopping talking to announce it and just said that there'd been a tragic accident and kind of explained it and just said for now we just had to sit and wait."

Ms Wyatt and her husband Dennis were among about 40 passengers who climbed the hill to Port Chalmers Presbyterian Church today, seeking solace within its walls.

The church was not open, but Ms Wyatt said cleaners opened its doors and let people inside.

Port Chalmers Presbyterian Church, with Emerald Princess in background

The Port Chalmers Presbyterian Church was opened for passengers of the Emerald Princess. Photo: RNZ / Lydia Anderson

Fellow passenger Susan Field, from Brisbane, said the explosion gave her a huge fright.

"I was sitting out on the balcony and I actually thought one of the big containers had fallen, and I dropped to the deck.

"It sounded [like an] enormous bang, then we looked over the balcony and we saw a gas bottle projectile go over and hit one of the containers, missing people that were walking back from the shuttle by mere millimetres."

She said the man who was killed was carrying out maintenance on the lifeboats, when he was hit by the cylinder.

Susan Field

Susan Field was on board the Emerald Princess when she saw the gas bottle projectile go over the railings and hit a container. Photo: RNZ / Lydia Anderson

The cruise ship company Carnival Australia said the fatal incident had happened during technical work on the hydraulic launching system on a tender vessel.

Ms Field said the accident had hit the crew hard.

"They're all very young and they all come from overseas countries, so they're away from their family for a long time."

She said she had been on several cruises, but was starting to think she was jinxed because there had been a death on each trip.

"We lost a man outside Broome who jumped and got eaten by a crocodile, and last time we went to New Zealand somebody jumped over so I mean, don't book a cruise with me."

Meredith Schmahl and Dianne Bartalot

Meredith Schmahl, left, with her friend Dianne Bartalot, had travelled from Virginia, USA for the cruise. Photo: RNZ / Lydia Anderson

Meredith Schmahl said she and her friend, Dianne Bartalot from Virginia, wanted to thank Captain Kent for his leadership.

"The captain has been so open and updating us and I know there were some complaints, and it's like, he does not deserve that, he's been the consummate professional and and just really taking charge of everything."

A Carnival Australia spokesman said the company was deeply saddened by the crewman's death.

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