SEASONED "cruisers" Eric and Carolyn Henderson have returned home after a cruise they will never forget - for the wrong reasons.
The Coast couple were aboard the P&O Pacific Dawn which became the centre of a tragic story when a bus carrying cruise passengers was involved in a fatal accident in Vanuatu.
Three locals were killed and 12 Australians seriously injured in the head-on smash between two buses on the island.
The Hendersons said they felt the shockwave across the ship as news of the tragedy spread.
They had also been ashore that day but had returned to the ship when the accident happened.
Mrs Henderson said they were enjoying drinks on the ship's deck awaiting departure when they saw and heard a local police car arrive.
"We were all on the front deck and everyone raced over to the side of the ship to see what was going on and we saw the officer jump out of the car and run up the gangway, his arms were flying as he spoke to the representative from the ship," she said.
" It was nearing 4pm and the gangways were all still in place. This was very unusual, so we knew at this point something was seriously wrong.
"There was a buzz around the ship as more passengers came back on board.
"The buzz got bigger and then the captain came over the loudspeaker and said what we all feared - there had been a tragic accident involving one of the cruise buses and our scheduled departure would he held until all were back on board.
"We were all sick and worried we didn't know who it was.
"We watched the injured arrive in ambulances at the ship and the captain put the call out for medical staff on board, doctors and nurses to help and those who specialise in trauma and counselling."
Mr Henderson, who served with the Australian Navy, said there was a certain camaraderie cruise ships and friendships were formed.
"You make many new friends quickly on-board even if it's just a polite nod there is a strong sense of community," he said.
"It's the ship's policy if you go on an organised outing the ship will wait for you so there was definitely no animosity around the delayed departure, just concern.
"The captain kept us very well informed with regular announcements and updates and these were confronting as we heard the full extent of the accident.
"We all felt shocked as we sailed away the next day but it was comforting that the captain called a memorial service.
"At the service we were made aware that had P&O made a large financial contribution to support the injured family."
He said the service was emotional one and people from Vanuatu working on the vessel sang traditional songs.
"They were very teary and emotional," he said.
"Everyone on board donated money to the cause.
"I'm not sure how much was raised, I heard around $40,000 and we were told the money would go directly to supporting the islanders affected by the accident."