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Norwich man leads cruise ship rescue mission

PUBLISHED: 15:00 22 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:56 02 July 2010

Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis who is leading the Celebrity Eclipse ship to Bilbao to bring home 2000 stranded Brits.

Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis who is leading the Celebrity Eclipse ship to Bilbao to bring home 2000 stranded Brits.

Rob Garratt

A rescue mission to bring 2,000 stranded holidaymakers back to their native British shores is being led by a ship's captain from Norwich.

A rescue mission to bring 2,000 stranded holidaymakers back to their native British shores is being led by a ship's captain from Norwich.

Capt Panagiotis Skylogiannis is at the helm of a £500m cruiser's maiden voyage as it journeys towards Spain to come to the aid of hundreds of people stranded in foreign lands.

An estimated 150,000 Britons have been stuck overseas by the flight ban due to volcanic ash - but 2,000 people will be a step closer to home thanks to a voyage under the command of a Norwich man.

The Celebrity Eclipse set sail on Tuesday morning on a rescue mission that aims to reunite stranded friends and families with their loved ones back home.

Capt Skylogiannis' wife Lisa, 38, told the Evening News of the pride she feels for her husband, a Greek national, from their home in Wroxham Road, Sprowston.

The mother-of-three said: “This is not every day in his life - 2,000 people is a considerable number.

“We are very proud of him, and so are all of his family in Greece; it's quite an achievement.”

The 122,000 tonne Eclipse is a new luxury vessel, complete with a lawn on its top deck, which was due for a two-day publicity launch cruise. But it was quickly diverted to a rescue bid and set sail for Bilbao, in the north of Spain, with Capt Skylogiannis at the helm, and is hoped to return packed full of relieved passengers on Saturday.

“The ship is brand new so it doesn't have people waiting to get on - so they made the decision that's it's ready to go over there and bring some people back, when there are so many people stranded,” said Mrs Skylogiannis.

Capt Skylogiannis has worked the waves with Celebrity Cruises for more than 20 years, graduating to the rank of captain eight years ago.

The couple have been married 13 years, and met when on board a cruise when Mrs Skylogiannis was working as a nurse. The couple's three children are Toula, aged eight, Nikolas, aged five and Emilia, aged two.

The rescue mission has been launched in partnership with Thomson, First Choice, Thomas Cook and CTTG, and there will only be space on the cruise for passengers holidaying with these firms.

The Eclipse is yet to be formally christened, and will be named by Hampshire yachtswoman and breast cancer survivor Emma Pontin late on Saturday afternoon, and will be based in Southampton.

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