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A medical drama heralded the arrival of cruise liner, MS Spitsbergen, when it dropped anchor in Loch Linnhe last week after a passenger suffered a suspected heart attack the previous day.
Prior to the Hurtigruten line’s 7,344-tonne ship arriving off Fort William – she was due to make another visit earlier this week – there had been an unsuccessful attempt to evacuate the male passenger.
The failed attempt was due to poor weather conditions and a second effort was also unsuccessful.
However, by this point the ship’s doctor felt the passenger’s condition had stabilised sufficiently to be able to come off the ship on arrival at Fort William the next day.
Sarah Kennedy, company secretary for Fort William Marina & Shoreline Community Interest Company, told us what happened next: ‘The Coastguard and ambulance were standing by the Fort William pontoons ready for him to come off the ship and whisk him off to the Belford where he was checked over and discharged later that afternoon.
‘The gentleman and his wife were assisted by the Ships Agent – Stuart Cowan, Senior Agency Operator, Inchcape Shipping Services – to catch a train to Glasgow and then hire a car to travel home where he will be kept under observation by his own GP.’
For the remaining passengers there was still plenty of sightseeing to do as Mrs Kennedy explained: ‘The rain generally kept off and despite a challenge with the change of trips due to the high winds meaning the gondola at Aonach Mor was closed, we advised them to run a shuttle bus to Glenfinnan and back which the passengers really enjoyed – especially with some of them seeing the steam train travel over the viaduct and Sonia the guide singing Gaelic songs to them on the way.
‘The passengers were very keen to come off the ship as they’d been on board for two days and went for walks around Cow Hill or along to old Inverlochy Castle and enjoyed visiting the shops in the town centre.
‘They were quite visible with their red coats and is an indication of what actually happens whenever a cruise ship comes to Fort William and they aren’t necessarily wearing the same colour jacket.’
It is the maritime custom to carry out a plaque exchange when a ship arrives on her maiden visit to a location as an official welcome but unfortunately no councillors were available at such short notice.
Pam Weller, presenter on Nevis Radio, kindly stepped into the breach and presented Captain Terje Normann Nilsen with a beautiful painting of Glencoe that was generously donated by Drew Purdon from the House of Clan Jamfrie.
He was also welcomed to Fort William by Mrs Kennedy and given a bottle of Ben Nevis whisky, a jar of local Lochaber Honey, a candle made from local beeswax and also a handwritten card with a photograph of Ben Nevis from the loch welcoming him, his passengers and crew to Fort William.
A number of the crew also came on shore to enjoy all that was happening in the town and a large number of purchases were witnessed being taken back on board.