When Saga Sapphire (1981/37,301gt) made her first appearance in Southampton on 26 March she was already several days late. The delay in re-delivering the ship from her major refit in the Fincantieri shipyard at Palermo was caused by strikes, thought to be about redundancies, a problem that has also affected other Italian yards. She eventually sailed from Palermo on her positioning voyage to Southampton on 19 March. The vessel’s problems were not over when she arrived in the UK, as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency found minor deficiencies, which were soon put right. The late re-delivery of the ship, which went into the yard in November as Bleu de France, caused the maiden voyage to be revised, sailing from Southampton a week later than advertised, on 3 April, and cutting out many ports. Her original Adriatic itinerary was replaced by one featuring ports around the Iberian Peninsula, and passengers were offered cancellation and a full refund or a shortened cruise and partial refund. 444 of the passengers who had booked opted to continue with the shortened cruise.

Unfortunately, while she was on her first cruise and about to sail from Valencia, a fault was discovered in the cooling system for the port engine. As a result, the captain took the decision to remain alongside to effect repairs. Very quickly it became apparent that the resolution of the problem would take a considerable amount of time, and reluctantly the decision was made to curtail the maiden voyage and fly passengers home. Everyone was given a full refund, despite having enjoyed 14 days on the new ship and being well looked after, with free drinks on the last few days of the trip.

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