Three juvenile mussels and a piece of coral – that’s the reason New Zealand authorities banned P&O’s Pacific Adventure from entering its territorial waters and ruined hundreds of holidays, it can be revealed.

While some have blamed the line for failing to take precautions after warnings and the lessons from last year’s sailing season, P&O did clean the hull of the Pacific Adventure on the itinerary before it headed for New Zealand.

But the four objects were still on the hull, and plans for a further dive to remove them had to be called off due to bad weather. 

P&O is believed to have sent the NZ authorities pictures and asked for passage, promising they would be removed as soon as possible. However, their request was turned down and the 13-night “Kiwi Adventure” cruise was diverted to Hobart, causing “uproar” aboard the vessel.

Bad news for NZ cruises

Pacific Adventure
Pacific Adventure

P&O Australia, in a commendable move after an outcry from those on board, agreed to abandon future cruise credits and pay 50% compensation and $300 on board credit as. The future cruise credits offer was rejected by passengers, many of whom said they did not want to sail the line again.

The news of the incident does not bode well for the season. It had been hoped, after last season’s disasters, that lines would be better prepared and that the NZ authorities would recognise this and be more accommodating.

The results of the Pacific Adventure case were a tragedy for some passengers.  The ship was forced to abandon its New Zealand itinerary and head for Hobart instead.

The fresh revelations do, however, show that P&O tried to comply with the strict environmental laws, and that bad weather and bad luck meant their plans ran aground.

Among those affected were Janine Sherriff and Kyle Risk, who had planned a dream wedding at Hobbiton, New Zealand.

Ms Sherriff said the idea to get married came about as they looked at the itinerary after receiving tickets from parents. “Kyle is a massive Lord of the Rings fan and when we found we were going there, we jokingly mentioned they do a wedding package,” she told the ABC.

“His face just absolutely lit up like it was the greatest thing ever discovered.”

Risk told the ABC: “First off, I was furious. I saw Janine’s face when we got the news. I was ready to explode. I got a selfie from our family and friends at the site in Hobbiton we should have been on about 20 minutes before we had to turn around.”

“Now we have to figure out what to do about our wedding, we have all this money down the drain,” added Ms Sherriff.

P&O paid for the couple’s flights back to Sydney with their parents.

David Curtis was supposed to be seeing friends in New Zealand from Pacific Adventure for his 60th birthday.

“This is horrendous, I have missed out on seeing friends based in New Zealand. They were not able to come to Australia for my birthday celebrations and I said that is OK – I am coming to see you.”

He maintained: “We got an email last Thursday [from P&O] that said the itinerary was being changed and that only two of the destinations would be missed – Auckland and Bay of Islands.”

What went wrong and what have we learned

Captains around the world are very aware of the problems in New Zealand.  Some told us of just how hard it was to work within the rules, especially since they knew the Kiwi authorities were unrelenting.

They also understood their lines had taken extra precautions this year to ensure their hulls were cleared before they set off on their journeys.

P&O Australia maintained in an initial statement that guests were told before embarkation there could be significant itinerary changes.

“Due to New Zealand’s strict biosecurity requirements, the ship left Sydney on Monday for hull cleaning off the Bay of Plenty, however, the weather did not allow this to happen, so we apologise that the itinerary had to be amended.”

One guest has told Cruise Passenger’s Facebook page that cleaning began on the itinerary before New Zealand. It is understood experts told P&O the removal of three juvenile mussels and a single hydroid commonly known as lace coral would allow them to pass into NZ waters.

We now assume that this communication was while the line hoped the New Zealand authorities would relent on their hard line.

Our verdict

P&O deserves credit for listening to their passengers who said a future cruise credit was no compensation for a ruined holiday if they didn’t intend to sail again.

“P&O Cruises Australia can advise a change to the compensation for guests on board Pacific Adventure, after the ship was unable to visit New Zealand,” they told us on Sunday.

“We have listened to the feedback from our guests and understand not all of them wish to cruise with us again. The 50% Future Cruise Credit already offered will be converted to a refund.

“The $300 per person onboard credit remains. Again, we apologise for the change in itinerary, and thank our guests for their patience and understanding.”

And they also deserve credit for trying to stay within the rules.  Those pesky mollusks, however, know no boundaries.

It looks like the NZ authorities, well within their rights to protect their seas but who some feel are a little overzealous, don’t intend to ease up this year.

New Zealand has said it is expecting 360,000 passengers and 149,000 crew this season. That’s a lot of holiday dreams and millions of dollars of business.

We have been warned. You’ll be sailing at your own risk.