Two Cruise Ships Swap Passengers to Solve Port Closure Challenges

Image courtesy Sue Carter / Facebook

Published Mar 18, 2020 2:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

In an example of the measures that cruise lines are taking as they wind down operations, the Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) vessels Columbus and Vasco da Gama swapped their European and Australian passengers at sea Wednesday so that all could return home. 

The unusual transfer operation was originally slated to occur at the port of Phu My, Vietnam, where the two vessels were scheduled to take on fuel and stores while exchanging passengers. However, CMV said in a statement Tuesday that it had been granted permission to carry out the operation off the coast of Phuket instead. 

"In light of the continued border closures and flight cancellations, to repatriate all passengers as close to their home country as possible and ensure a safe onwards journey we will transfer European nationals from Vasco da Gama to Columbus, as well as transfer any Australian and New Zealand nationals from Columbus to Vasco do Gama," CMV said. "Vasco da Gama will then proceed towards Fremantle, Australia to finally disembark passengers around the 27th of March. Columbus will then proceed towards London to finally disembark passengers around the 13th of April. Due to the closure of ports, there is no option for passengers to disembark the ship in any other port than London or Fremantle."

CMV said that it is working with the Australian government and its Border Force, and it has the understanding that the vessel will be exempt from Australia's port closures. The details of disembarkation procedures are still pending. 

Image courtesy Erica Randle / Twitter

"Finally on our way back to Australia all passengers transferred and their luggage as well as more supplies of food and drink - time to relax now and enjoy," said Vasco da Gama passenger Sue Carter in a Facebook post Wednesday.

Several passengers expressed gratitude for the hard work of the crew in making the transfer at sea. "These guys, who you never see, busted their guts out today transferring huge, heavy suitcases in very choppy seas. My hats go off to you," said passenger Angie Browne on a Facebook page for Vasco da Gama cruisers.

"It has been incredible to watch the loading and unloading of the tenders from my cabin. First they moved over 500 pieces of baggage, and the big blokes lifted the cases like bits of paper, then pax came and went, and now they are swapping stores," a Vasco da Gama passenger wrote in an online forum. "Boxes, and boxes, and boxes and the men have been loading and unloading since early morning. Apparently Columbus can bunker and take on provisions in Sri Lanka whereas we are heading straight home."

There are currently no suspected coronavirus cases aboard either ship. One passenger aboard Vasco Da Gama was medically disembarked in Phuket on March 13 and checked for COVID-19. The passenger tested negative, and the vessel was cleared to sail, a spokesman for the cruise line said.