Ports & Ships Cruise News

Dec 12, 2008
Author: Terry Hutson

  • Cruising from Australia to South Africa in March

  • Swashbuckling pirates now a part of the cruise attraction

  • Carnival sues Rolls-Royce for QM2 problems

  • Antarctic cruise ship refloated

  • A touch of Gaelic comes to South Africa

  • Cruise line drop fuel supplement as oil price decreases


    Cruising from Australia to South Africa in March

    Fred Olsen Cruise Lines Black Watch (28,670-gt, built 1972, 829-passengers) in Cape Town during her 2007 visit. Picture by Ian Shiffman

    A couple of attractive looking cruise options came across our desks recently, presenting opportunities of a long ocean cruise either to or from South Africa.

    Both of these involve the well-known and popular Fred Olsen cruise ship BLACK WATCH, which as part of her 2009 World Cruise will be sailing from Australia to South Africa and then heading up the Atlantic seaboard via West Africa to Southampton.

    The Sydney to Cape Town leg should hold considerable interest for those readers who have periodically asked for information about passenger ship travel between Australia and South Africa and a cruise such as this might present the perfect way of returning home after visiting family in either Australia or New Zealand.

    The cruise commences in Sydney on 22 February and includes calls at Burnie (Tasmania), Adelaide, Albany (West Australia), Fremantle, Port Louis (Mauritius), Reunion, Maputo and Durban before reaching the Mother City one month later on 23 March 2009.

    The pool area on the stern of Black Watch. Picture Terry Hutson

    Fares range from R41,550 per person sharing for the 29-night cruise but are subject to possible exchange rate fluctuations.

    From Cape Town Black Watch heads off into the Atlantic for the voyage back to Old Blighty, or Southampton to be precise, departing the Cape on 23 March and reaching her homeport on 13 April after a 21-night cruise.

    Port calls include Walvis Bay, Takoradi (Ghana), Mindelo (Cape Verde), Santa Cruz (on the island of Tenerife in the Canary islands) and Lisbon with fares ranging from R23,900 per person sharing.

    In next week’s Cruise News and Views we’ll have some information on special offers and cruises involving the ship Discovery.

    Further details of these and other segments of the Black Watch World Cruise are available from Triton Cape Sea Travel at www.tritonsea.co.za or email info.nclsa@galileosa.co.za

    The Card Room on board Black Watch, featuring badges and plaques from ports and places where the ship has visited. Picture Terry Hutson

    Swashbuckling pirates now a part of the cruise attraction

    The cruise ship C Columbus arrives in Durban during 2003. Picture Terry Hutson

    Cruise Lines are having to hastily revise some of their routes and destinations that were planned well in advance following the upsurge in pirate activity off the Horn of Africa. An increasing number of merchant ships have been attacked this year of which a significant number have been seized and held for ransom. More recently to hand are reports and claims involving cruise ships, including a confirmed attack on the German cruise ship ASTOR while it was en route to the Persian Gulf. Fortunately Astor was able to evade the pirates without much difficulty.

    Cruise companies are obviously extremely sensitive of the need to retain confidence among passengers and as a result areas of danger or inconvenience are quickly identified and avoided. But when a ship is already in the region with passengers on board it places the lines in something of a catch-2 situation. Such a choice recently faced the operators of the cruise ship C COLUMBUS (14,903-gt, built 1997, 420-passengers) which is owned and operated by Hapag-Lloyd Cruises of Hamburg.

    Rather than risk the possibility of danger to passengers on board, even though Astor could probably outrun any pirate motor boat quite easily, Hapag-Lloyd opted instead to fly the 264 passengers across to Dubai while the ship negotiated the unhappy waters with what was unfortunately described as a “skeleton crew”.

    “As long as the situation is uncertain in the area, and as long as German authorities have a travel warning issued, we will not cruise through the Gulf of Aden with passengers aboard,” said Hapag-Lloyd managing director Sebastian Ahrens this week.

    This is an option that more lines may feel forced to take, but several others have already indicated they will rely on the speed and manoeuvrability of their ships to avoid any chance of being captured.

    A designated Maritime Safety Protection Area through the Gulf of Aden is in existence for ships to adhere to. This provides for a lane more easily patrolled by warships from the US, Canada, the EU, Russia and several Asian countries. And although not much is being said in public it is possible that passenger ships may receive the courtesy of an escort in future, following one or two dodgy experiences.

    But simply having to take such action signals the quandary the cruise line operators face. Do they follow the example of Hapag-Lloyd or do they re-route all cruises and avoid the area entirely.

    From a South African perspective it could lead to more ships being routed round the Cape, although such a decision automatically rules out a number of popular destinations linking the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Either way, for cruise operators it’s not going to be an easy and simple choice.

    But for another cruise line, Arcalia Cruises, it has become a question of playing mum over reports that the ATHENA (16,144-gt, built 1948, 520-passengers) received the attention of Somali pirates while on a positioning cruise to Australia. Or was the ship attacked at all – there is some uncertainty over this and the modus operandi doesn’t appear to match that of other pirate attacks in the area.

    The shipping company maintains that the Athena was simply surrounded by a large number (42 has been reported) of fishing boats going about their business but one lady passenger on board remains adamant that the Athena was attacked.

    The woman said in a telephonic interview with a Melbourne newspaper that the ship’s master, Captain Antonio Morais had told passengers over the public address system that two attacks by pirates had taken place. She said that Athena’s crew had instructed passengers to remain indoors after the ship was surrounded by small motorboats while the crew resorted to using fire hoses to keep the boat people from boarding the ship.

    Two days later the captain used the PR to say there had been no attack. Athena is due in Fremantle on 20 December.

    Arcalia Shipping owns and operates Classic Cruises International and has a fleet of older classic ships - the Athena, Arion, Funchal, Princess Daphne and Princess Danae,

    Carnival sues Rolls-Royce for QM2 problems

    QM2, or Queen Mary 2, the world’s largest passenger liner (there are other bigger ships but they are classified as cruise ships) has recently completed a dry docking and general survey in a German shipyard, but now Carnival, which owns Cunard and are the QM2 owners, are demanding that Rolls-Royce, which supplied the engines that power the massive ship, must pay compensation for disrupted business.

    Carnival has filed a 45-page lawsuit in Florida which claims that the main propulsion system, which cost £460 million, is faulty and prone to breakdowns and disruptions. Carnival wants Rolls-Royce to pay £68 million in compensation for time lost from the ship’s repeated forced dry docking for repairs and maintenance.

    And there we were believing Cunard when they said the ship was undergoing routine maintenance....

    QM2 is fitted with a Mermaid propulsion system that combines the conventional shaft, propeller and rudder system into a single propulsion unit known as a pod. These were supposed to have given QM2 superior speed, thrust and manoeuvrability.

    However, according to the papers filed in the Florida court Rolls-Royce deceived everyone by covering up the pod system’s shortcomings.

    It is fairly well known that the Mermaid pods were prone to problems before the building of QM2 and more than one eyebrow was raised when it was announced the Mermaid system was to be used in the ship. Carnival says that Rolls-Royce assured them the pod system had been improved and kinks in the system had been eradicated. Shortly after the ship went into service in 2003 however, problems began which resulted in expensive monitoring equipment having to be fitted and the ship dry-docked every two to three years instead of every five years.

    Rolls-Royce says it will defend the action.

    Antarctic cruise ship refloated

    Salvage teams have succeeded in refloating the Antarctic cruise ship USHUAIA (2,802-gt, built 1978) which went aground at the entrance to Wilhelmina Bay on the North West Antarctic Peninsula on 4 December.

    A small amount of marine gas oil was spilled when two diesel tanks were punctured in the grounding.

    Passengers on board the ship, who signed on for an adventure cruise, had to be evacuated to a Chilean Navy supply ship, the AQUILES with the help of a zodiac landing craft ‘borrowed’ from another Antarctic cruise ship, the ANTARCTIC DREAM which was standing by. The 82 passengers were subsequently taken to a Chilean base on Antarctica, from where they could be flown out, while the crew of 42 remained on board their vessel.

    The cruise ship meanwhile was able to steam under her own power to the more sheltered waters of Paradise Bay for a hull inspection before a decision can be taken on what next to do.

    The USHUAIA flies the Panamanian flag but is Argentine-operated and is quite an interesting ship, having previously been the NOAA research vessel BALDRIDGE until she was retired from the US agency in 1996.

    The incident will fuel concerns about the increasing number of cruise ships sailing in Antarctic waters. The grounding occurred while the ship was experiencing extremely strong winds, described by a writer on board the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORER which was sailing nearby, as of hurricane force of 103 mph and gusting.

    A touch of Gaelic comes to South Africa

    attractive offers make Hebridean Spirit an appealing option

    The 5-Star HEBRIDEAN SPIRIT (4,200-gt, built 1998, 79 passengers), which is now in Cape Town’s dry dock undergoing a routine maintenance, will be operating in South African waters for several months from later in December and some attractive offers have come available for passengers wanting to enjoy the pleasure of this delightful little ship.

    For any cruise bookings made before 10 January 2009 involving a cruise departure date between 20 December 2008 and 21 March 2009, a 30% deduction may be made off full tariff prices.

    Passengers may also upgrade to Premium Economy for the equivalent of £500 per passenger or £2000 pp for Business Class subject to availability. In addition a free 3-night stay in either Durban or Cape Town pre or post cruise is on offer, with the exception of the 5 January pre-cruise stay.

    These offers are available for new bookings only and cannot be combined with any other offer and remain subject to availability and may be withdrawn without notice. To qualify payment has to be made in full.

    Hebridean Spirit has been returning to South Africa for several years during our summer months – this year will involve her longest stay in our waters and it appears that her operator Hebridean International Cruises has found a useful niche market.

    The full cruise calendar for 2009 includes sailings between Norway and the Indian Ocean, with passengers sailing on Hebridean Spirit to exclusive cruise destinations and small islands in the Mediterranean, Middle East, Adriatic, The Azores, South Africa, Mozambique, Seychelles, Madagascar, Namibia, Mauritius and Aldabra Atoll.

    The company’s second ship, HEBRIDEAN PRINCESS (2,112-gt, built 1964, 55-passengers) will continue to show off the dramatic coast of Scotland and the Western Isles and Norway from the best vantage point – on board a ship as she has been doing for the past 19 years.

    All cruises on both ships include private escorted tours to the various destinations, with guest speakers on board at times to discuss and explain the cultural essence and historical significance of each port of call.

    In spite of the size of the two ships, cabins on board are surprisingly spacious and public rooms are elegant to provide relaxing luxury for pampered guests.

    Further details can be obtained from reservations@hebridean.co.uk or from the website at www.hebridean.co.uk

    Hebridean Spirit

    Cruise line drop fuel supplement as oil price decreases

    More good news is that cruise lines are beginning to suspend the fuel bunker supplement that has became such an iniquitous aspect of the cruise industry in the past year or so as the cost of oil skyrocketed.

    In the past week three cruise lines announced they were suspending the charges – Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Carnival Corporation. In terms of Carnival’s announcement this means the likes of Carnival Cruise Lines, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and the Yachts of Seabourn all have lower tariffs for cruises departing on or after next Wednesday (17 December).

    Earlier Carnival had said it would suspend the fuel supplement once the price of oil dropped below US$46 a barrel. Passengers who have already made their bookings will have their bills revised and adjusted.

    Royal Caribbean intends suspending the supplement for cruises commencing after 1 January 2009, with the supplement refunded in the case of people who have prepaid in full. NCL will likewise kick in the rebate as from 1 January.

    Transocean Tours’ ASTOR (20,606-gt, built 1988, 650-passengers) easily evaded Somali pirates who tried to stop and board the ship off the coast of Somalia recently. Picture Terry Hutson

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