Ports & Ships Cruise News

Dec 5, 2008
Author: Terry Hutson

  • Hebridean Spirit to be dry docked in Cape Town

  • New ship is designed specifically for Polar cruising

  • A taste of adventure as cruise ship Nautica is attacked by pirates

  • Maxim Gorkiy may become a floating hotel

  • Classic cruise ship could be heading for South Africa

  • The sad demise of Africa’s lake steamers


    Hebridean Spirit to be dry docked in Cape Town

    A cruise ship HEBRIDEAN SPIRIT (4,200-gt, built 1991) is currently in Cape Town occupying Quay 500, which is leased to Smit Amandla Marine and utilised mainly by the service vessels operated by that company.

    The reason for this unusual visitor on Quay 500 is that the Scottish ship has been waiting to enter the dry dock for a routine maintenance refit and inspection, before sailing again on 20 December.

    Hebridean Spirit arrived in the Indian Ocean early in November, visiting the Seychelles, Aldabra Atoll, Madagascar, Maputo, Richards Bay and Durban, where her cruise ended and passengers disembarked.

    From Durban the ship sailed to Cape Town to prepare for her survey and dry docking and on completion she will embark on 20 December on another four months of cruising off South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and later among the Indian Ocean islands.

    Among these cruises are opportunities to cruise between Walvis Bay and Durban taking in the ports in between as well as those from Maputo to Cape Town on the return voyage.


    This report was carried in one of PORTS & SHIPS’ maritime news bulletins earlier this week, in which it was stated that the Hebridean Spirit was originally another of the Renaissance fleet, the R6.

    On of our regular readers, Henry C Aitken kindly wrote to say that I may have been confused (that happens easily!) regarding the ship’s former names.

    “She was built as the Renaissance Six and carried other names viz. Sun Viva 2 and Megastar Capricorn before being purchased by Hebridean Island Cruises and renamed Hebridean Spirit,” he points out.

    New ship is designed specifically for Polar cruising

    The blog offradar.info reports that Norway’s Polar Cruise International will be calling for tenders for the construction of a dedicated expedition-type cruise ship designed specifically for Polar cruising.

    The tender is expected to be advertised early in 2009 and the blog says the concept design for the 202 passenger capacity vessel has already been completed by Finland’s Aker Arctic Technology.

    The specification calls for a ship with a lower berth capacity of 202, plus the addition of 40 passengers on Pullman type berths. The ship will carry a crew of 75. Other specifications include the ship having an overall length of 135.5 metres and a beam of 17.8m. Her service speed will be 17 knots.

    In terms of her polar specific design, the new ship will be double-acting with a bow design optimised for operations in open water as well as in ice flows, with an ice-breaking stern for operation in reverse mode where necessary.

    The ship will have two independent main engine rooms, providing for full redundancy and a ‘get-me-home’ capability in line with the latest IMP ‘Safe Return to Port’ requirements.

    Polar Cruise Enterprises currently operates the former Swedish icebreaker NJORD, now sailing as the Polar Star, but this 40 year old vessel is becoming more and more expensive to operate and maintain. (source http://offradar.info by Mike Hood)

    A taste of adventure as cruise ship Nautica is attacked by pirates

    Nautica. Picture ex Flickr

    It used to be just one of many fears endured by passengers and crew in the days of sail when sailing to far off lands, perhaps to India or to the Windies. The risk of attack by pirates and corsairs was as real a concern as were storms at sea and sickness on board.

    In those days, especially the late 18th and early 19th centuries, sailing ships would be armed and might hope on occasion for naval escort over sections of their passage, sometimes sailing in convoy with an armed frigate or two as company if the risk from enemy or pirate was felt to be real.

    Those days have long since gone and today the mention of arming a non-military ship brings shudders to many a seafarer in the knowledge that such action would add to the risk, not lessen it. Yet such a prospect is again at issue, following an upsurge in piracy particularly off the now infamous Horn of Africa, gateway to the Indian Ocean and Red Sea depending on where you are sailing.

    It has been suggested that modern cruise ships would be relatively safe from pirates acting in small and manoeuvrable motorboats and armed with modern rifle grenade launchers and AK47 automatic weapons. The old grappling iron on a length of rope remains effective for getting over the side, especially for a ship with a low freeboard although here the cruise ship has an advantage of being relatively high out of the water. Most cruise ships also have the advantage of speed and therefore greater manoeuvrability, but there is always the risk that a slackening of guard will see one of these ships captured and held for ransom.

    And if you thought the seizing of an ultra large crude oil tanker (ULCC) or a ship carrying Russian-made tanks had focused world attention, imagine what the capture of a cruise ship with a thousand or more passengers would be like. The world media would have a field day, which is putting it mildly.

    This could easily have become reality this past week when an American cruise ship, Oceania Cruises’ NAUTICA came under attack while sailing in the Gulf of Aden. At 30,277-gt and carrying over a thousand passengers and crew the ship must present an imposing sight to anyone in a small open boat, but that didn’t deter the pirates operating from two small skiffs, which had been lurking in the shadow of several fishing trawlers as the cruise ship approached. Acting as if nothing was out of the ordinary the passenger vessel, on a 32-day cruise from Rome to Singapore suddenly found itself at risk and under attack as the skiffs raced towards the ship. Going to full speed (about 20 knots) the cruise ship began to pull clear, at which point one of the pirate skiffs gave up the chase almost immediately although the other continued with the attempt to close and even opened fire using automatic weapons. At least eight shots were aimed from a range of about 275m although there are no reports of any having struck the ship.

    Nautica was built in 2000 and was once the R5 of Renaissance Cruises and is a sister ship to Insignia (R1) and Regatta (R2) also of Renaissance Cruises.

    Nautica was carrying 600 passengers at the time. She is not the first to come under attack from Somali pirates, who don’t seem deterred by the thought of how to handle hundreds or even thousands of passengers and crew. In November 2005 an attempt was made on the American cruise ship Seabourn Spirit, which beat off the pirates by means of a then secret weapon – a sonic gun. Earlier this year (April) the French sailing cruise yacht Le Ponant not only came under attack but was captured and held for ransom. Le Ponant had no passengers on board at the time, only a small crew of 30 but the pirates were seemingly unaware and unconcerned about that.

    As a result of the latest attempt it can be expected that more cruise ships will opt to either stay away from the Indian Ocean or will take the longer route around the Cape.

    Maxim Gorkiy may become a floating hotel

    Maxim Gorkiy in Durban harbour on a previous visit. German entrepreneurs are hoping to secure the ship’s future as a floating hotel and conference centre in the city of Hamburg.     Picture Terry Hutson

    MAXIM GORKIY (24,220-gt, built 1973), a cruise ship steeped in German history and sentiment, may become a floating hotel in the port of Hamburg if a group of businessmen and entrepreneurs have their way.

    The ship had been mooted as the future Marco Polo II but last month plans to relaunch the ship on behalf of Orient Line fell through on account of the current financial crisis, with the project having been placed officially on hold.

    Now a group of Hamburg businessmen hope to bring the ship to the city where she was launched back in 1968 when she bore the name of the city, HAMBURG.

    Her godmother at the naming ceremony was Marie-Luise Kiesinger, the wife of the then German Chancellor, Kurt Georg Kiesinger.

    The ship also gained fame as a floating conference centre for the heads of state of the former USSR and the USA shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

    The idea is for the ship to be renamed back to HAMBURG and turned into a floating hotel and conference centre in the Elbe River practically in the city centre.

    As Maxim Gorkiy the ship has made several visits to southern Africa in recent years while operating for Phoenix Reisen.

    Classic cruise ship could be heading for South Africa

    Ocean Monarch in Dubrovnik earlier this year. The ship has been renamed Princess Daphne and may be heading for South Africa.
    Picture by Ivo Batrlcevic

    At this stage please treat this report as being provisional and certainly not confirmed, but it appears possible that the former OCEAN MONARCH, which was recently renamed PRINCESS DAPHNE in Lisbon, may be coming South Africa’s way.

    Provisional bookings have been made at Richards Bay and Durban for the ship’s visit, on 27 February and 3 March 2009 respectively. The dates alone appear suspect as it requires no more than 12 hours sailing between the two ports but the agent for both ports confirmed the above information adding that it remained provisional at this stage.

    So, what ship is this, some of you may ask, although many readers will be only too well familiar with her.

    Better known as the Ocean Monarch (15,833-gt), she was built in 1955 by Swan Hunter as the Port Line cargo liner PORT SYDNEY. In 1972 the ship underwent a complete conversion to adapt her for cruising. The owners at that time were the JC Carras group in Greece, who renamed her AKROTIRI EXPRESS although she was renamed DAPHNE just two years later. Under this name she was acquired in 1985 by Costa Cruises and in 1996 went to Leisure Cruises of Switzerland, being renamed SWITZERLAND initially but later adopting a new identity as OCEAN ODYSSEY. In 2002 she was again renamed, this time to OCEAN MONARCH.

    Her latest renaming to PRINCESS DAPHNE took place in late November alongside her sister ship, the PRINCESS DANAE (16,531-gt), the former PORT MELBOURNE. Both ships are booked to undertake a couple of cruises each from Malaga on behalf of Vision Cruises during December this year.

    It appears her owners, Classic International Cruises, a subsidiary of Arcalia Shipping Company, had intended sending Princess Daphne to join the FUNCHAL in Australian waters this month where she would have operated six or seven cruises out of Sydney while Funchal relocated to Western Australia. Sharply rising fuel prices led to this being cancelled and Classic International Cruises, which owns and operates Princess Daphne, Princess Danae, Funchal, Arion and Athena, announced that it would consider sending the ship to Australia in the future only when fuel prices came down.

    That of course has now occurred but it is obviously too late to restore the cancelled plans, hence the two Malaga cruises lined up for December.

    With seven passenger decks Princess Daphne has a total of 203 standard cabins and 29 Deluxe suites giving her a passenger capacity of over 500 and a crew of 250. The ship is stabilised and is considered ideal for long distance ocean cruising. Her cruising speed is in the region of 15.5 knots.

    The sad demise of Africa’s lake steamers

    SS USOGA plying her trade across Lake Victoria in days gone by

    I freely confess to having a fascination for the lake and river steamers, particularly those here in Africa although those cruise ships on the rivers of Europe look more than interesting to this jaundiced eye.

    But as for river and lake ships in Africa, it doesn’t matter whether they are vintage steam driven vessels, or more modern motor vessels, the collective term lake (river) steamer really brings an atmosphere all of its own.

    Sadly the troubled story of the continent has had its effect on almost all of these fine ships, most of which were built in shipyards across Europe. There they were dissembled for shipping to Dar es Salaam or Mombasa, or one of the river ports on the continent’s west coast from where they were laboriously transported overland to their final destination on lake or river, where once again they would be reassembled and launched into their proper element.

    In the daily News Bulletins of PORTS & SHIPS we’ve reported on the accidents and activities of some of the surviving lake ships. Lake Victoria, that vast extent of water in central Africa bounded by Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya has been the most affected by years of neglect, mismanagement and mishap. Uganda, which once boasted a handsome fleet of lake ships owned and operated by the state railway organisation, now has to rely on Tanzanian or Kenyan owned vessels after the MV Kabalega sank following a collision in 2005, while the MV Pamba and MV Kaawa slowly rot away at their moorings due to neglect and accident damage.

    The result as been a setback not only to passenger travel between Uganda and its southern neighbour Tanzania but has also raised higher costs of transporting cargo to and from the coast while eliminating Uganda’s southern route to the sea. Only three ships have been operating the busy Mwanza (Tanzania) – Kisumu (Kenya) – Port Bell (Uganda) route in recent times. These are MV Umoja, MV Kamanga and MV Satnam. Umoja is owned by Marine Services Ltd, a Tanzanian state-owned unit while Kamanga is owned by a private Tanzanian firm and Satnam by a private Kenyan operator.

    Now a fourth ship is set to join the other three, the Tanzanian-owned MV Serengeti which can carry up to 690 passengers and a cargo of 350 tonnes. Serengeti is owned and operated by Marine Services Ltd and has begun advertising a weekly service between Port Bell and Mwanza.

    The arrival of a fourth foreign-owned lake ship has not been without controversy and soul searching from Uganda, which has raised safety concerns and allegations that regulations and procedures are being flouted.

    The reality is that the only Ugandan ship still operating on the lake is MV Kalangala, which operates between Entebbe (Nakiwogo) and the Ssese islands in the west, just a short haul by lake standards.

    The Ugandan government has made various noises in recent times indicating that it intends ploughing money into providing new or refurbished ships for the lake on which the landlocked country so depends. Sadly none of these have come to be.

    Much the same story applies to the ships of other Central African lakes, and for that matter the ships of the rivers of the region, with little relevant and accurate information available about the condition of the vessels or the manner in which they are operated. Meanwhile a massive tourist opportunity goes abegging and the region’s economy stagnates.

    Another lake steamer on another lake in days gone by – ROBERT CORYNDON at Butiaba on Lake Albert

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