The first two returning Waverley river cruises from Southend Pier have been cancelled after a defect was discovered.

Hugely popular river cruises from the pier along the River Thames were set to return tomorrow (September 24).

However, the first two trips have now been cancelled after a defect has been discovered today.

A spokesman for Waverley Excursions said: "Unfortunately, during routine maintenance checks on Thursday afternoon a defect was discovered in Waverley’s starboard paddle wheel.

"A new part is required which will need to be machined before being fitted.

"We must therefore take Waverley out of service until repair work has been carried out. Waverley’s sailings on Friday September 23 and Saturday September 24 have unfortunately had to be cancelled.

"We are deeply sorry for the disappointment and inconvenience this late cancellation will cause.

"Given that Waverley arrived on the Thames early on Thursday morning ahead of her first sailing to London for 4 years we are very disappointed to have to withdraw the ship from service to carry out repairs.

"We will work as quickly as possible to complete the repair work and have Waverley back in service."

All passengers who have pre-booked tickets for Friday and Saturday will be contacted.

Tickets can be transferred to any other sailing even if at a more expensive fare or a full refund can be requested. 

​The ship is the largest seagoing paddle steamer in the world and trips were revealed last month to be back from Southend between September 23 and October 9.

Sunday's sailings are operating as scheduled, according to Waverley Excursions' website.