Concern about South African cruise ship

Jul 23, 2003
Author: P&S

A South African-owned and registered cruise ship crewed by South Africans and operating year-round cruises from Durban.

Improbable dream? Evolving events suggest this may well be so, but not if you accept the claims of a Cape Town based company called Royal African Cruises, who announced recently via a press release and a series of newspaper advertisements that they had purchased a 4 600-gt ‘luxury passenger liner’ named African Princess.

The ship, which was subsequently identified by Royal African Cruises as Vergina Sky, owned/operated by Central Marine but presently laid in Greece, would, according to the ads, have onboard facilities including restaurants, bars, lounges, a night club, cabaret, cinema, gymnasium, library plus a swimming pool - in fact all the usual attractions of cruising.

Added to this would be a helicopter available for sightseeing by passengers, along with a mini submarine identified as ‘Mergo’ capable of descending to 100m to provide passengers with the opportunity of sipping champagne while viewing shipwrecks, undersea coral and other wondrous Indian Ocean sealife.

According to Mr Sam Dodgen, managing director of Royal African Cruises, the ship would be registered in South Africa with a fully South African crew, with cruises taking place from Durban and Cape Town to other SA ports as well as to Mozambique and Indian Ocean islands.

In their press release the company announced a cruise package based on what they have termed FlexiCruise, which allows passengers to purchase time on the ship while retaining a flexible timespan in which to go cruising.

‘It means that a person can cruise when you want and to the destination of your choice. FlexiCruise is based on one week’s holiday on board a luxury liner and there are three periods to choose from: Peak, High and Low periods.’

The company says further that time purchased can be utilised in weekly spans, or with a combination of short and longer cruises. The time purchased can be taken up anytime within a six-year period.

But pictures of the ship in the advertisements flighted show another ship, one that looks surprisingly like the 11 563-gt Aegean Dolphin, roughly three times the size and capable of carrying more than twice the passengers of Vergina Sky.

When challenged why a picture of a different ship was being passed off as the future African Princess, Mr Dodgen said there hadn’t been time to obtain a picture of the correct ship.

Subsequent enquiries to ship brokers revealed that Vergina Sky has not been sold to anyone recently, although some interest had been shown. These enquiries were subsequently confirmed by Royal African Cruises who say they are now looking for another ship.

Mr Allan Whitfield, who said he was a spokesman for the company in the absence of Sam Dodgen, told Ports & Ships that they had “lost interest in Vergina Sky.” Another ship was under consideration and a decision was likely within 3 to 4 weeks.

According to Whitfield FlexiCruising is different to timeshare, in which a passenger buys holidays for a fixed period over a number of years. Royal African Cruises was marketing a concept that allowed a person to purchase any period of cruising which can then be taken one cruise (or more) at a time.

Several travel industry specialists have expressed concern over the concept, saying they were unaware of it having succeeded elsewhere in the cruise industry. They strongly advise would-be passengers to confirm whether any money paid over for time on the ship was being used to finance administration and advertising costs for the project, as this would place the public at considerable risk of losing their money if the operation does not materialise.

Meanwhile it appears that Central Marine is now negotiating with Vietnamese and also Hawaiian interests over the Vergina Sky while Royal African Cruises is reported to be looking at two alternative ships, from which they hope to acquire one and have ready in time for the planned November/December start-up.

Potential passengers who intend to make firm bookings might feel more comfortable by insuring themselves against cruises being cancelled or not taking place. This is normally good advice for all cruises or holidays being booked ahead.

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