British passengers on board a P&O cruise liner told how the ship helped to rescue more than 20 migrants on an inflatable dinghy off the Spanish coast.
Around 3,000 passengers were enjoying stunning Mediterranean views as they sailed on the Azura from Cadiz to Barcelona when shouting, whistling and yells for help were heard coming from the water.
On rushing to the ship’s balcony, they spotted an overcrowded dinghy, which was struggling to stay afloat and its passengers waving manically.
After coming to a halt, the cruise ship – on a three day £2,200 trip – spent around an hour trying to find the inflatable raft.
A lifeboat was then sent to pick up its struggling passengers, most of whom were men in their late teens and early 20s.
It then took another two hours for all of them to be brought on board the Azura.
While most praised the ship’s crew for turning back to help, some passengers were angered by the 10-hour delay.
One passenger, who did not want to give her name, said: ‘Once the migrants were on board we had to go back on ourselves to Almeria, which took up a lot of time.
‘The attitude of the passengers was quite mixed. Many were angry that we had been delayed and had to rescue these migrants. It was actually quite shocking what some people were saying.’
The passenger added: ‘It’s not what you expect to happen on a Mediterranean cruise but these people were just floating in the middle of the sea and were clearly in distress. We couldn’t just leave them.’
As passengers watched on from the decks of the Azura, each of the migrants was brought on board following searches by the ship’s security staff.
The captain of the cruise liner informed passengers, most of whom were British, that it was being diverted to Almeria, south eastern Spain.
He also apologised for the delay, explaining that it had been caused by ‘migrants in distress.’
After reaching Almeria, the migrants, all wrapped in white blankets, were taken off the Azura by the Spanish coastguard and handed over to local police as cruise ship passengers watched on.
Some passengers broke out into applause over their rescue while the migrants waved and smiled at the ship as they left.
Passengers also revealed that upon leaving the Azura, the migrants thanked them and the ship’s officials for helping to save their lives.
They revealed that the motor on the dinghy stopped working and that it had been floating in the sea for several hours.
The Azura was due to arrive in Barcelona on Thursday morning but the captain warned passengers that they could be delayed by up to 10 hours.
Dorothy Hallet, 73, told MailOnline: ‘It was certainly quite an interesting experience.
‘On rushing towards the balcony, it was clear to see that in the water was an inflatable and overloaded dinghy.
‘The officers on the bridge were aware of the situation but it takes some considerable time to stop a large ship and then circle it around to find the small craft again.
‘The captain did an excellent job of manoeuvring the vessel.’
Mrs Hallet, from Hampshire, who was on the cruise with her husband, added: ‘It’s been a great humanitarian operation by P&O and they should be applauded for that. What happens next to those people will be down to the authorities.
‘No matter what people think regarding those who make the often foolhardy and hazardous journeys from North Africa towards the countries of southern Europe, when faced with the possibility of rescuing drowning people we are bound by the instincts of humanity to save them.’
According to figures, an estimated 73,000 have made sea crossings to try and get to Europe this year alone, the majority from North Africa.
A P&O Cruises spokesperson said: ‘The Azura responded to a distress call earlier today whilst en route from Cadiz to Barcelona. The passengers were medically checked on board Azura and then transferred to the Spanish authorities.’