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Case studies - Turtles halt cruise sailing

When Which? Legal member George Turnbull booked a seven-night cruise he never expected the ship would stay berthed in the same spot for three nights – or that the passengers would endure long minibus trips of up to five hours just to get to sites they wanted to see.

But that's exactly what happened when George and his wife booked a cruise on the River Ganges with holiday company VJV (Voyages Jules Verne) for £4,390.

What happened

In its brochure, VJV stated that customers would avoid frenetic road travel during the trip. On the first day, the ship did make a two-hour trip – a round trip back to the same spot it had sailed from. But there the ship remained for three nights. Instead, they had to take minibus rides of three to five hours on the roads they were supposed to be avoiding. In fact it was only in the late afternoon of the fourth day that they set sail again.

The passengers were told the reason the ship couldn’t cruise as advertised was because of a ‘turtle sanctuary’. However it wasn’t as if the ban had just been introduced – in fact it was a 20-year-old ban. They were offered no alternative holiday or refund. George sent a letter by recorded delivery to VJV, which said no compensation was due. George came to Which? Legal for advice.

Our advice

We advised George to argue that VJV had breached its obligations under the Package Travel Regulations 1992, which apply to packages sold in the UK. These say that descriptions about package holidays mustn’t be misleading and that particulars in brochures are terms of a contract entered into by the consumer and the holiday companies. The holiday firm is responsible for making sure the contract is stuck to, even if another supplier carries out the service. You can claim compensation from the holiday company.

This is a rare exception to the general rule against claiming damages for stress and inconvenience in English law. Prior cases have established that for a ruined ordinary holiday you can generally claim a sum in the low hundreds of pounds, but special holidays have attracted claims of more than £1,000 and, for very special ones (such as weddings abroad), claims can run into several thousands. George pursued VJV as we advised. He was offered and accepted £1,200.