‘Ridiculous’: Norwegian Cruise Lines act sparks huge debate


A fiery debate has sparked after a cruise denied eight passengers, including two Aussies, to board the ship after they failed to make the 3pm cut-off time.

The Norwegian Dawn ship left the tourists on an African island, some without their possessions after the private tour they were on ran late.

The group have now made their way by plane, ferry and car to Senegal, some 3500km from São Tomé and Príncipe, where the Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) ship departed without them last Wednesday.

US couple Jill and Jay Campbell, who were among the abandoned eight cruisers have spent more than $US7,000 in travel costs to get to the port in Senegal.

Norwegian Cruise passengers stranded after missing departure off African coast

“We truly believe that although there’s a set of rules or policies that the ship follows, they follow those rules too rigidly,” Ms Campbell told NBC’s the Today Show on Tuesday.

“They really forgot that they are people working in the hospitality industry and that the safety is and the wellbeing of their customers should be the first priority and that should be placed first.

“It was a basic duty of care that they have forgotten about. It does concern us.”

Adam Glezer from Consumer Champion told news.com.au it was “ridiculous” the passengers, including a pregnant woman and someone who has a heart condition, weren’t allowed back on — even though the Norwegian Dawn was still at anchor and a São Tomé coastguard took the group on tenders to the vessel.

“Each situation has to be treated on an individual basis — especially the passenger without their medication,” he said.

He said despite the rules, “you need flexibility in situations like this”.

Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime lawyer, also called out the cruise liner, accusing it of “making a point by abandoning the guests” because they booked a tour that wasn’t through the cruise.

“The reality is that cruise lines aggressively promote cruise sponsored shore excursions as a fundamental part of their business model, earning tens of millions of dollars a year in income,” he told news.com.au.

“To promote cruise sponsored excursions where they receive as much as 50 to 60 per cent of the profits, cruise lines state that if their guests paid for a cruise sponsored excursion, as opposed to an independent excursion, the company will guarantee that if the extrusion is late in returning to the cruise ship, it will wait so that the guests are not abandoned ashore.

“In this particular case, it appears that NCL made a point of abandoning these guests simply because they were on an independent excursion.”

Mr Walker said NCL’s conduct is not only “harsh and uncaring”, but he believes their act was “mean-spirited and vindictive in nature”.

The debacle has caused a huge divide online with some taking the side of the passengers, while others have defended the cruise’s move in leaving the passengers behind in São Tomé.

“Weird that the captain wouldn’t let them board if it was still in port?” one person wrote on Facebook.

“Don’t feel sorry for them they know the rules. It costs the ships a fortune if they don’t leave on time. We have watched people left behind before in Asia. Last trip to NZ there was a very close call also,” wrote another.

Other cruisers said being on time is a “simple” rule passengers need to follow, adding it’s why they only book tours through the ship.

“This is why you take a risk if you don’t go on a excursion you get through the ship Ruled need too be followed,” a third person wrote, while another added: “That’s why I would never take a cruise or organised tour ever, ever again, no freedom to do what you want, when you want.”

A TikToker and cruiser Candi Thomas unleashed on the passengers saying it was the responsibility of the passengers to make it back to the ship on time.

“For those of you who don’t cruise, let me tell you. Before you get off the ship there’s numerous announcements, You have it in your daily planning letter, there are signs … you have to be on board 60 to 90 minutes before that ship is departing,” she said.

According to The Points Guy, if you do not arrive at the port before the boarding window ends, a cruise ship “will most certainly leave without you”.

“Even if you are standing at the pier, waving frantically. That’s because a cruise ship’s departure time is carefully planned and more than just your vacation is at stake.

“Just like airplanes, cruise ships are on tight schedules — much tighter than you may realise.”

Norwegian Cruise Line responds

In a statement provided to news.com.au, the US based Norwegian Cruise Lines said while the ship was in São Tomé and Príncipe, an African island nation, eight guests who were on the island on a private tour “not organised through us” missed the last tender back to the vessel, “therefore not meeting the all aboard time of 3pm local time”.

“While this is a very unfortunate situation, guests are responsible for ensuring they return to the ship at the published time, which is communicated broadly over the ship’s intercom, in the daily print communication and posted just before exiting the vessel.”

The spokesperson said when the guests did not return to the vessel at the all aboard time, their passports were delivered to the local port agents to retrieve when they returned to the port, as per the regular protocol.

The tourists had made arrangements to rejoin the ship in Banjul, Gambia on April 1, but the ship was unable to safely dock in the destination “due to adverse weather conditions”.

The spokesperson told news.com.au it contacted the passengers regarding the itinerary adjustment and provided them with authorisation to rejoin the ship at Dakar, Senegal on April 2.

“Despite the series of unfortunate events outside of our control, we will be reimbursing these eight guests for their travel costs from Banjur, Gambia to Dakar, Senegal. We remain in communication with the guests and are providing additional information as it becomes available.”

The Campbells, from South Carolina, were the only people to have their bank cards and more than a few dollars on them. They said they have spent $7500 on accommodation and food for their fellow castaways.

They explained they were late to the cruise because there was an issue on their private tour.

“They [tour] were like: ‘No problem, we can get you back within an hour,’” Mr Campbell, who is a schoolteacher.

The guide contacted the captain to say the group were going to be late. When they got back to port the ship was still anchored just off shore. But staff would not allow the passengers to board.

“The harbour master tried to call the ship, the captain refused the call,” Mr Campbell told ABC 4 News South Carolina.

“We sent emails to NCL, the NCL customer service emergency number, they said ‘Well, the only way for us to get in touch with the ship is to send them emails, they’re not responding to our emails.’”

Mr Campbell said the nation’s coastguard service then put all the passengers on a boat and sailed them out to the cruise ship, but still they were refused permission to board.

He told US broadcaster NBC’s the Today Show on Tuesday that the people of São Tomé and Príncipe had been “very gracious, very hospitable,” and had steered them towards hotels and travel agents.

Nonetheless, he said, it had been a challenging experience, describing it as a “very, very difficult process”.

News.com.au understands the eight guests have now rejoined the cruise in Dakar, Senegal.

with Benedict Brooke