Updated: 06/05/11 : 09:28:35
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World :: German Thwarts Pirate Attack With Deckchair

A British couple has revealed a German passenger on their cruise ship thwarted a Somali pirate attack by throwing a deckchair at the machine gun-toting outlaws.

Retirees John and Barbara Jeffrey were on a once-in-a-lifetime trip from South Africa to the Mediterranean when bullets were sprayed around and Mr Jeffrey suffered two separate injuries from blasts.

They were with a group socialising on deck late at night when they first spotted a small boat following their liner, then looked on in horror as a pirate attached a rope to a lower deck and began shinning up it.

The holidaymakers threw everything they could at the man and he finally fell into the sea when the German hit him with a flying deckchair.

That enraged the other raiders, who began firing machine guns at the 532-cabin ship, the MSC Melody.

Mr Jeffrey, 65, from Seaton Delaval, North Tyneside, told the Evening Chronicle newspaper: "They were still close to the ship at this point so they didn't have a great angle to hit us.

"I think they were trying to scare us off so they could try with another rope, but we stood our ground and continued throwing things at the boat.

"They then pulled away from the boat and started firing at us. I was amazed at how calm everyone was."

The couple took cover inside the ship but bullets ripped through its hull, and Mr Jeffrey, a retired builder, took a glancing blow from one and was more seriously injured by shrapnel from another.

Crew members eventually saw off the pirates by using water hoses to thwart their attempts to swarm aboard.

The drama unfolded in April 2009 and the Jeffreys decided to speak out about their ordeal after settling a legal claim with MSC Cruises.

Ironically, the website for the 35,000-ton ship says passengers are unlikely to forget their time onboard: "Like a favourite song, a cruise aboard MSC Melody stays in your mind long after your holiday is over."

Mr Jeffrey was treated for six days on board before he was transferred via Jordan to a French hospital after his septic wounds failed to respond to antibiotics.

A spokeswoman for MSC Cruises said: "Passengers' safety is always paramount to us and security procedures were well in place at the time to protect the passengers from the alleged risk of piracy.

"MSC can confirm that they did not and do not accept any legal responsibility for the incident which was unforeseeable as it has been the first reported case of an attack to a passenger vessel.

"There was adequate security present on board during Mr and Mrs Jeffrey's cruise - the crew were on proper look-out by sight and hearing so as to make a full appraisal of the situation.

"The correct position is that whilst the MSC Melody was 600 nautical miles from the coast of Somalia, six pirates on a small craft approached the vessel late on the Saturday evening, April 25, 2009.

"There were a few passengers who observed the incident and tried to throw deckchairs at the pirates. This was not necessary and the situation was well under control by the vessel."

The company added that it had launched new itineraries departing from Livorno in Italy and Durban in South Africa to remove any threat to its passengers from pirates.