Cruising: you either get it or you don’t. It’s why the coronavirus pandemic has seen such a polarised view of a leisure activity that is decades old and has produced so much joy…and division.
This week was more interesting than most. It started normally enough: yet another ABC report about the Ruby Princess – same story, slightly different case.
Four Corners interviewed passengers who felt – with some justification – they weren’t informed about the risks when the ship set sail in March. Tracey Temple told the program about her embarkation: “I heard that they were fumigating. I panicked and went and tried to find somebody from the cruise ship.”
She found a crew member. “I said to her, ‘I would like to ask you a question. I am a kidney and pancreas transplant patient. I want to know if it’s safe for myself and my mother to get onto this cruise?’
“She said that the cruise ship would not let one passenger, let alone all passengers, be put at risk if it wasn’t safe to sail.”
Ms Temple is, perhaps understandably, angry.
“I nearly lost my life and my transplant as well, because of somebody’s neglect, somebody’s stupidity, and the lies, just the lies that they told. As far as I’m concerned, they put the mighty dollar first and they never put our safety first.”
Next stop The Sydney Morning Herald. This time, it was Aurora’s Greg Mortimer that was the centre of attention.
Named after one of the first two Australians to successfully climb Mount Everest and a brand new vessel with a revolutionary bow, she was caught up in the pandemic off South America last march. It lasted many weeks, thanks to the ports who turned her away.
Aurora Expeditions is an Australian company founded by the Mortimers almost 40 years ago. The idea was to take small groups of travellers to remote regions and create “ambassadors for the preservation and protection of these sacred places”.
Their boast: “Less people means more solitude and greater flexibility if tides, currents, ice or weather dictate a schedule change.”
The Nine newspapers story quoted Glenn Haifer, a part owner of the cruise company , as telling Dr Maruicio Usme, doctor on board the Greg Mortimer:
“You have done an amazing job. I wish to make it clear that if you do not provide me with the information I require and follow my direction you will never work for us again.”
The Greg Mortimer isn’t quite as infamous as the Ruby Princess.
But its 114 passengers spent upwards of $50,000 on an adventure in South America. Port after port refused them refuge – part of the appalling behaviour of the world’s governments at a time of crisis.
Now many feel the ship should never have sailed. And Aurora Expeditions, a small but sound Australian company that has invested heavily in new ships, is facing a potential class action.
Mr Mortimer, who founded the line in 1992, wouldn’t talk to us for this article. Which is a pity. His name is on the bow of the ship – like it or not, responsibility is the price of fame.
Friends rallied, however.
“Greg is a terrific guy and this is really tough on him,” Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler told the Financial Review. “He’s totally sold out of Aurora Expeditions, so it wasn’t his responsibility in any way, but his name is definitely attached to the whole thing.”
At the end of the week came a ray of light. And from the ABC.
In a segment filled with incredulity, and headed, “A pandemic won’t deter some Australians from cruising”, they interviewed a series of cruise passengers who can’t wait to cruise again.
Ursula Steinberner, a kidney transplant patient, and her partner Leon Sharp are eager to jump aboard their next ship.
“We’ve already been to Helloworld,” they told the ABC.
Ursula Steinberner summed up the feeling: “If you live your life worrying about what you’re going to get, you’ll never go anywhere”.
Ursula, we celebrate your view. There is no adventure without risk.
It’s time to stand up for what we love. Time to stand up for cruise.
Vote in this year’s special Readers’ Choice Awards
No doubt 2020 will go down in cruise history as the year of the pandemic – a once in a generation event. And this year’s Cruise Passenger Readers’ Choice Awards will reflect it.