Australia’s cruising experts are closely watching a legal drama that has Carnival Australia under spotlight.

The leading cruise line is facing a class action after taking its passengers to Melbourne and Hobart instead of New Caledonia in 2015 after a tropical cyclone led to itinerary changes.

New developments in the case have revealed that Carnival Spirit scheduled for a 8-day Pacific Island voyage on March 10, 2015 had prior knowledge about the cyclone since March 6.

Yet, the passengers were informed by the ship’s Captain after leaving port in Sydney. Excerpts from the Captain’s letter were shared in a story by The Daily Telegraph.

“As you know, we’ve been keeping a close eye on Tropical Cyclone Pam located in the South Pacific. Based on the latest forecast, the storm is predicted to intensify to a category 4 cyclone with winds of over 200 kilometres (per hour) within the next 36 hours. In order to ensure your comfort and safety, it is now evident we must change our course and proceed south in order to avoid the storm’s path. We are working on an alternate itinerary and will have information by tomorrow morning,” stated the Captain’s letter.

The next day, passengers were told that Carnival Spirit was heading to Melbourne and Hobart.

Cruise Passenger asked Carnival Australia’s view about the reported story.  In their response Carnival’s spokesperson said, ” As this is now a matter for the court to determine, it would not be appropriate to participate in commentary on the case prior to the hearing. We simply wish to refer to our previously stated position from the time the class action was first proposed.”

“When Carnival Spirit departed Sydney on March 10, we were fully intending to deliver a South Pacific itinerary. In fact, on departing from Sydney, Carnival Spirit headed northward towards New Caledonia as planned.’

“However, forecasts showed that instead of tracking away from New Caledonia the severe weather system was making an unexpected shift to the west,” said Carnival’s spokesperson.

Its reported that about 400 passengers from Victoria left the cruise in Melbourne. The case has stirred a debate on the rights of cruise travellers for compensation and refund, claiming that it does not qualify under two sections of the Compensation and Consumer Act 2010.

Carnival Australia maintains that its intentions were to complete the itinerary. Sharing further insights on Carnival’s contingency plans in case of natural disasters, the spokesperson added, “Any decision to change a cruise itinerary is never taken lightly and this cruise was no exception.’
“In the light of the changed forecast, we stand by the decision for Carnival Spirit to change course to the south on a revised itinerary well clear of the severe weather.”

The next hearing is scheduled on February 29.

Image: Ewan Sherman of Hobart who paid to cruise from Sydney to New Caledonia aboard Carnival Spirit