It was a bittersweet ending for the world’s last cruise passengers, who spent six months at sea.
Just eight cruisers, who were onboard Phoenix Reisen’s Artania, disembarked the ship to a world which has drastically changed from when they left.
The ship arrived in the German port of Bremerhaven on Monday, bringing the end of an epic return voyage from Australia that made numerous diversions to drop off crew members.
Setting the scene, the Artania left Hamburg on 21 December 2019, poised for a 140-day world cruise where the passengers were set to see the ancient architecture of European cities, the colourful sights and sounds of Asia’s markets, the beaches of the South Pacific and the vast landscapes of Australia’s outback and bush.
As COVID-19 spread throughout the world, the ship managed to slowly evade the spread until it finally caught up with them in March.
When the Artania docked in Fremantle in Western Australia, 36 passengers tested positive following a check from Australian health officials. The arrival was fraught with controversy, with Premier of WA Mark McGowan, initially denying help for many elderly passengers who needed urgent care.
Passengers were finally evacuated; the sick were hospitalised, and those who were healthy, flew home on repatriation flights after a deal between Germany and Australia was struck.
But eight passengers decided to take the long route home with the Artania and subsequently, they became the world’s last cruise passengers. They left on April 18 with local Western Australians lining the harbour to bid farewell to the ship.
The journey from Europe to Australia by sea normally takes just a few weeks, but it was extended to drop crew members of in Manila in the Philippines, as well as Bali in Indonesia.
They watched and waited as countries closed their boarders, only to reopen once the virus had swept through.
Around 75 crew members remained onboard until Bremerhaven to ensure the smooth operation of the ship. The Artania’s captain, Morten Hansen, who according to The Telegraph used to star in the German reality TV show Crazy for the Sea, kept everyone in the loop through his Facebook page.
But despite no shore excursions with port calls to exotic destinations, the special voyage also came with its own highlights. Two of the Artania’s crew members were married in a ceremony officiated by Dr Gabriele Maluga, the Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany in Western Australia.
And on Mother’s Day, Captain Hansen detoured from his planned route to map out the shape of a heart.
The ship finally delivered her last remaining guests at midday on Monday 18 June, to a much different world from the one they set sail from.
And while cruising around the world has been paused, there are signs of new life. Germany has started river cruising, and Viking are looking at sailing Brits around the UK this summer.