Stan Hoey travelled half way round the world to visit the beautiful fjords of New Zealand aboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. It was a journey that cost him a total of $48,361.
But a tough new stance from Biosecurity NZ has meant an important part of his trip of a lifetime is now in ruins.
“Queen Elizabeth is unable to call at the Bay of Islands as the hull cleaning process was not completed. We have travelled halfway around the world for a once-in-a-lifetime trip and our cruise will only call at four of the seven advertised destinations,” he wrote to Cruise Passenger.
“Cunard is offering 50% of the cruise cost as future cruise credit. Cunard has demonstrated its utter incompetence in its inability to maintain this ship to the standards required by New Zealand, and now demonstrates its absolute stupidity if it thinks that we’ll ever want to book with them again.
“To say we’re disappointed is a huge understatement.”
Mr Hoey was offered a $100 voucher when more of the ship’s itinerary was scratched. He was so angered he sent a letter to line president Sture Myrmell demanding $9,977 as compensation for the New Zealand leg of his journey, which includes a train trip and hotels and flights.
Mr Myrmell’s office told him to talk to his travel agent.
“I am seeking to recover a sum proportionate to the extent of the cruise that you have failed to deliver, which is three out of seven destination ports,” he wrote back.
He said the Cunard response spoke of “enjoying extra sea days” instead of going to the Bay of Islands. “I live in Portsmouth,” he said. “If I want a sea day I’ll take my dog for a walk along the seafront.”
The passengers aboard Queen Elizabeth, which docked at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal today, are not alone in seeing their holidays scuppered by the New Zealand authorities.
Sylvia Vandertouw, who was onboard Viking Orion, which set to sail to New Zealand, Adelaide, Tasmania, and Melbourne, suffered a similar fate.
Ms Vandertouw told us: “Unfortunately because of Viking’s neglect in having the ship’s hull cleaned before we boarded in Auckland, we were denied visiting scheduled stops at the South Island of NZ, Tasmania and Melbourne. Instead we spend 8 full days at sea with NO stops off the ship until we sailed straight for Adelaide where we anchored 14 km out of Australian waters to have the hull clean.
“Two days and a night we were stranded whilst the hull was cleaned by divers, and whilst we all were on board, engine stopped. Many passengers were seasick at this stage.”
The difficulties didn’t stop there, with the ship also skipping Adelaide and Melbourne.
“We were then told we could not get off the ship at Adelaide, only to be told we had to make our way to Melbourne for supplies. We then were again told we could not get off at Melbourne. Now 9 days at sea without getting off the ship. We then went on to Sydney docking on the 5th Jan 2023.”
It’s a truly sorry story – and a reminder that every cruise sets sail to fulfil the dreams of thousands of passengers, from Australia and beyond.
Who is to blame? An overzealous Biosecurity NZ? Cruise lines for failing to maintain their ships?
It’s significant that so many highly responsible lines – from Viking to Regent Seven Seas – have been caught in this surprising trap. Some have even been turned away twice. And these are lines who would know that complying with the regulations is crucial to their businesses.
The New Zealand Cruise Association told us that the Queen Elizabeth incident was nothing new.
A Biosecurity NZ spokesman said: “We know that the Association and vessel operators understand the importance of New Zealand’s strict biosecurity protocols to protect the country’s special marine environments, aquaculture industry and economy and we appreciate that the Association reinforced that view.
Biosecurity New Zealand undertakes significant stakeholder engagement to help vessel operators comply with biofouling requirements to ensure biofouling on hulls does not bring unwanted organisms into our waters – and we will continue with that education and engagement.
So what are the lines doing?
Cruise lines’ compensation for itinerary changes can be extraordinarily complex, because they are at the mercy of so many factors, from the weather to regulations that may change while the ship is underway.
Most lines have now given guests future cruise credits, on board credits of cash for port calls missed in New Zealand.
But some passengers seem determined to resolve who was to blame here – an over zealous regulator, divers who failed to meet regulator’s standards or lines who didn’t take account of New Zealand’s stance on biosecurity.
Some readers have pointed out that insurance can help. One Cruise Passenger reader reported she received $150 a port for cancellations under an insurance policy.
A spokesperson from Azamara confirmed the compensation that was offered to guests.
“Azamara follows the International Maritime Organization’s biofouling guidelines and is complying with all biosecurity requirements in New Zealand. The ship has been inspected by New Zealand biosecurity authorities and was granted the appropriate certificates to complete her port calls in New Zealand on a modified itinerary.
“Because Azamara Quest was not able to visit Milford Sound, Akarao, and Bay of Islands as originally scheduled, these ports were replaced with ports such as Timaru. All guests were provided $100 USD of onboard credit, as well as 15% future cruise credit to compensate for the itinerary.”
Regent Seven Seas shared a statement but didn’t specify the compensation offered: “Due to local regulations to enter New Zealand navigational waters, a cleaning operation of Seven Seas Explorer’s hull is required. The cleaning must be carried out by a company recognised by New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries, none of which have been available at ports the ship has recently visited or will visit before its scheduled entry to New Zealand waters.
“Therefore, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ technical teams are arranging for the cleaning operation to be carried out off the coast of Adelaide, Australia.
“Due to the travel time to Adelaide and the time needed to perform the cleaning of the ship’s hull, Seven Seas Explorer will travel directly from Adelaide to Auckland, New Zealand for its next cruise on January 12, 2023, which is unaltered.
“All guests on board have been offered compensation, and a number of guests chose to disembark in Adelaide to make their onward travels.”
If you’re sailing on an expedition cruise and your itinerary gets altered, things are a little different but you may still receive compensation according to Jeff Gillies, commercial director of Coral Expeditions.
“Expedition cruise is quite different as we only have ports at embarkation and disembarkation. The rest are more shore excursions and destination stops. Plans can change due to weather and community requests ( tribal issues, ceremony times ) and we normally have back up contingency sites to shift to.
” Flexibility in the published itinerary is part of our marketing. All that said, if we failed with something we had control over such as meeting an environmental compliance, we would hold ourselves responsible and would look to compensate guests.”