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Cruise Ship with Russian Tourists Jeered by Georgian Protestors

Russian cruise ship protest
Protestors jeered the cruise ship and its Russian passengers (Katie Shoshiashvili/Twitter)

Published Jul 28, 2023 5:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

The visit of a cruise ship carrying Russian tourists to the Georgian port of Batum on the Black Sea turned into a political incident on Thursday, July 27. After initially reporting the cruise would be permitted as the ship was not listed under the sanctions, the Georgian government voiced support as protestors lined the dock prompting the cruise ship to depart earlier than scheduled.

The Astoria Grande is Russia’s only modern cruise ship and was starting a summer season of trips from the port of Sochi on the Black Sea with strops at Trabzon, Amasra, and Istanbul in Turkey, and a visit to Batumi. Georgia. The seven-day cruise is starting at prices of approximately $1,200 per person.

The cruise ship was acquired in 2021 from Carnival Corporation which had operated her as the AIDACara, the first cruise ship built in 1996 when the German brand was launched before its ownership by Carnival. At 38,500 gross tons, she was the smallest shin in the AIDA fleet and was offered for sale during the pause in operations due to the pandemic. 

The AIDACara was acquired in 2021 reportedly by a group of Russian investors and renamed Astoria Grande, beginning cruise service in 2022 from Sochi. The listed owners are in the Seychelles and the cruise ship is now registered in Palau. Marketing for the cruises is conducted by a Turkish company Miray International but it is mostly marketed inside Russia.

 

 

After making stops in Turkey, the cruise was due to have its last port call in Georgia, but when word of the cruise started to circulate it opened old political wounds in the country. Protestors called for the ship to be denied entry into the port but according to some media reports government officials were calling the protestors “boorish” in their behavior. While recognizing the passengers would be Russian citizens, the Maritime Transport Agency of Georgia said the call would be permitted because the ship and its owners are not sanctioned and the association with a Turkish company.

The Astoria Grande docked in Batumi as scheduled with reports of protestors on the dock citing Russia’s past aggression in Georgia and occupation of the Abkhazia region. Local reports said the animosity among the passengers and protestors was furthered when a Russian flag was displayed in one of the cabin windows and some passengers made remarks denying Russian aggression. One was quoted as saying “We are still all part of the Soviet Union.”

 

 

As the day progressed, a large crowd of protestors formed on the dock at times singing the Georgia and Ukrainian national anthems and holding signs and flags in support of Ukraine. Georgia President Salome Zourabichvili Tweeted a picture of the protestors and wrote of her support for the protest. Georgia police were on the dock to keep order and reportedly helped to escort the passengers back aboard the ship.

By the early evening, the Astoria Grande departed. The company’s website shows one more scheduled visit next week with the remainder of the summer cruises skipping Georgia for port calls in Turkey. It is unclear if they plan to go ahead with next week’s port call in Georgia.