Photo: HotSpot Media
Two cruise ships – the MSC Splendida and the Costa Fascinosa – were in port outside Tunis on Wednesday when Sally Adey, a 57-year-old Briton travelling with an MSC excursion to the Bardo Museum, was killed. She was accompanied on the cruise by her husband.
The attack by two gunmen on the museum – which houses one of the best collections of Roman mosaics in the world – sent tourists, including children, running for their lives.
MSC said that 12 passengers lost their lives (two Colombians, three French, three Japanese, two Spanish, one British and one Belgian). Thirteen were injured – two seriously – while a Spanish couple, Cristina Rubio Benlloch and Juan Carlos Sanchez Oltra, were found safe and sound after a night hiding at the museum.
Ms Rubio Benlloch, who is pregnant, was immediately taken into hospital for observation. Both her and the child are reported to be well.
Costa reported that three of its passengers were killed, eight were injured and two remain unaccounted for. A spokesman confirmed that all upcoming calls in Tunis by the cruise ships Costa Fortuna, Costa Favolosa and Costa neoRiviera will now be substituted with alternatives.
MSC said it is no longer sailing to Tunis and that the Splendida will instead be calling at Valletta, in Malta. MSC Fantasia was due to travel there this summer, but will instead dock in Palma, Majorca; while MSC Preziosa will head to Cagliari in Sardinia, instead of Tunis, on its summer schedule.
Neal Baldwin, a spokesman for MSC, said that as soon as news of the attack broke, the ship’s management called for the immediate cancellation of all ongoing shore excursions and recalled buses and passengers.
Guests were given access to telephones and internet points on board in order to contact loved ones.
Telegraph Travel’s cruise expert Jane Archer said that the absence of the ships, which would have visited Tunis several times a week this summer, will be keenly felt by the hundreds of local people who make a living from tourism.
“It is easy for the cruise lines to switch to other interesting destinations,” she said, “and I doubt passengers will miss the Tunis stop particularly, but it is very sad for the locals because cruise ships only started going back there relatively recently following the Arab Spring. It will take a long time for the country to recover from a tragedy like this and convince people it is safe.”
A social media campaign in support of Tunisia’s tourism industry has gathered force since the attack, with people all around the world committing to visit the country this summer in a show of solidarity reminiscent of that which followed the deaths at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris.
Tourist numbers had been experiencing something of a resurgence in recent years, the Association of Independent British Tour Operators said that most of its members do not offer holidays to the country until later in the year.
“Only a few have clients booked to travel in the near future,” said Derek Moore, AITO’s chairman. “No clients have yet asked to cancel.”
He added: “As with any incident like this, much will depend, in the coming weeks, whether this turns out to be an isolated incident or the start of a worrying new area of terrorism.”
The latest Foreign Office advice for British travellers warns of a “heightened security presence in the centre of the city of Tunis. You should be especially vigilant at this time and follow the advice of Tunisian security authorities and your tour operator.”
Kirker Holidays, a British operator, said that bookings on its tours to the country were already very low, with no-one booked on its cultural short breaks in Tunisia until the autumn.
Derek Moore said that the incident emphasises the benefits of travelling with a tour operator as “they will always evacuate clients if conditions make this advisable and, should anything untoward occur, will liaise between clients, the authorities and families back home.”