A COUPLE’S luxury cruise turned into a terrifying nightmare when a gang of armed pirates attacked their ship.
Keen cruisers William and Dzieni McKenna were sailing on the MSC Melody when it came under attack from six Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.
The Italian-owned vessel was 200 miles north of the Seychelles and 500 miles off the Somalian coast when it was ambushed shortly before midnight just over a week ago.
Speaking from on board the ship, Dzieni said: "We were sitting in the bar having a drink when everything started. I could hear gunshots but didn’t really know what was going on."
Dzieni, 47, and businessman William, 57, of Austwick Way, Accrington, rushed to the foyer where they encountered three armed security guards preparing for a fight.
Housewife Dzieni said: "It was terrifying. I was having palpitations. We could hear shooting and shouting.
"I spoke to a South African lady who said she had seen a speed boat approaching the ship. The pirates threw a rope on board and we could see them trying to climb up it."
Some reports claimed several passengers desperately grabbed deckchairs and tables and hurled them down at the men trying to board the ship.
The ship’s captain, Commander Ciro Pinto, ordered all 991 passengers to return to their cabins while the team of Israeli security guards exchanged gunfire with the pirates.
He said later: "It felt like it was war."
Dzieni said: "We locked ourselves in the toilet, turned off the lights and locked all the doors. We could still hear shots being fired."
But after 15 minutes the ship’s crew regained control of the vessel and the pirates retreated and escaped in their speedboat.
There were no reported casualties on board but several passengers including the McKennas have reported that the pirates may have been injured.
The ship, on a 22-day cruise from Durban, South Africa, to Genoa, Italy, was escorted to its next port by a Spanish warship.
The couple later contacted their worried family in the UK to tell them what was going on.
The McKennas, who have taken 11 cruises before, were scheduled to return to Accrington today (Friday).
Dzieni said: "It’s an experience we never want to go through again but it won’t stop us from cruising.
"We are scheduled to take another cruise around Egypt and Italy later this year."
Their son Liam, 23, who was due to pick them up at Manchester Airport, said he will be delighted to have his parents back home, safe and sound.
He added: "I was shocked when I heard the news. I was glued to the television and the internet getting updates.
"It was such a relief when Lauren, my sister, told me they were okay."
* Pirates have attacked more than 100 ships off the Somalian coast over the last year, reaping large sums from ransom demands after each successful hijacking.