Two Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) cruise ships, ‘Columbus’ and ‘Vasco da Gama’ rendezvoused 12 nautical miles off the coast of Phuket, Thailand to undertake a unique passenger transfer and repatriation operation involving 239 persons.
The ship-to-ship passenger exchange by tender operation followed CMV’s 13th March announcement that all cruise operations were being suspended and voyages curtailed with the fleet returning to their home ports.
Despite representations and last-ditch mercy pleas to the Thai Authorities, Phuket remained closed to cruise ships along with all other ports in Southeast Asia and the wider Indian sub-continent rendering an air repatriation programme not an option. Permission had however been granted by the local port authorities to take on provisions and bunkers off the coast of Phuket before the ships’ onward voyages.
‘Columbus’ was operating a four month Round the World cruise carrying 1,020 pax before her voyage curtailment in Semarang (Indonesia), while ‘Vasco da Gama’ was operating a Northbound voyage from Fremantle and Singapore via the Suez Canal to Tilbury, carrying 839 passengers before her voyage was curtailed.
This unique repatriation operation was a huge logistical challenge for the officers and crew involving the transfer of over 500 pieces of luggage, 239 people and the transfer of provisions all undertaken by tender. The operation commenced at 6:30 am and was completed by 12 noon.
Christian Verhounig, CMV CEO, said, “We are tremendously proud of our on board and shoreside teams for their fantastic job in delivering this safe and effective evacuation and relief operation. On behalf of the directors, staff and especially our hard-working crew CMV would like to thank all our current passengers for their support, patience and understanding during this repatriation operation.”
‘Columbus’ is now heading directly back to the UK with 907 passengers, including 602 British nationals and 619 crew members on board. The voyage includes a technical call in Colombo, Sri Lanka,transiting the Suez Canal with a final technical call before arriving back in Tilbury on 13th April.
‘Vasco da Gama ‘ is on her way to Australia with 952 passengers, including 907 Australian & New Zealand nationals and 552 crew members on board and was due to arrive in Fremantle (Perth) on 27th March.
Passengers switching ships were observed, screened and all temperatures checked by the on board medical team prior to the exchange starting. They were all asked to complete a health questionnaire as a precautionary measure only and CMV claimed it did not currently have any cases of the coronavirus Covid-19 on board either ship.
Stringent hygiene protocols remain in place on board ‘Columbus’ and ‘Vasco da Gama.’ Both repatriation routes are within SAR range should back-up services be required, CMV stressed.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday,Holland America Line said that it was taking the unusual step to bring relief to the stricken cruise ship ‘Zaandam’ bysending another vessel, the ‘Rotterdam’, to rendezvous and transfer over supplies, personnel and COVID-19 test kits.
‘Zaandam’is currently under way from Chile to Florida with 77 persons with flu-like symptoms on board. Around 47 were thought to be crewmembers.
There were no coronavirus test kits on board and all ports along ‘Zaandam’s’route were closed. ‘Rotterdam’will be transiting south from Puerto Vallarta to bring the necessary supplies and staff for testing. The vessels were due to meet up off Panama during the evening of 26thMarch.
“Our intention is to proceed to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for arrival on 30thMarch , however plans are still being finalised. Alternative options also are being developed,” Holland America said in a statement.
In addition to onboard entertainment and communications options, Holland America has made telephone counselling services available for passengers and crew on board ‘Zaandam’. Both passengers and non-essential crew have been quarantined in their staterooms.
Zaandam was refused permission to disembark passengers in Punta Arenas on 14thMarch, due to Chile’s recent border closure. Her voyage was scheduled to end in San Antonio, Chile on 21stMarch, but she did not gain permission to disembark passengers, she is heading back to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.