Eight passengers left on African island after cruise ship departs without them

Norwegian Dawn. Images courtesy of NCL. Norwegian Dawn is operated by Norwegian Cruise Line. Images courtesy of NCL.

Eight people have scrambled through a series of African countries to rejoin their cruise ship after it left São Tomé and Príncipe without them.

The passengers missed their ship’s scheduled departure time from the island of São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Gabon, after disembarking to take a local tour, which was arranged privately. The tour group reportedly included a pregnant woman and a paraplegic traveller, while another passenger in her 80s also missed the departure as she was receiving emergency medical treatment in São Tomé.

The tourists — comprising six from the US and two from Australia — were aboard the Norwegian Dawn, a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. The vessel departed from Cape Town in South Africa on 20 March 2024 for a 21-day voyage along the African coast. The cruise is set to end in Barcelona, Spain, on 10 April 2024.

The group’s private tour overran on Wednesday 27 March. Despite the local coastguard motoring the group directly to the cruise ship before it set sail, the captain refused to allow the late guests to board.

Two of the passengers were Jill and Jay Campbell, from Garden City in South Carolina.

Speaking to ABC4 News, Campbell says: “The harbourmaster tried to call the ship, the captain refused the call. 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.

“The captain could have made an easy decision to turn one of the tender boats back, pick us up, safely load us, and then go on the way.”

Aerial of Norwegian Dawn in Cape Town, South Africa
Norwegian Dawn left Cape Town, South Africa, last month.

Campbell told NBC’s Today show: “The lovely people of São Tomé were very gracious, very hospitable. They had reached out as much as they could to help us find hotels.”

Eventually, the group found a tour agency to arrange flights to the next port of call. “[It was a] very difficult process,” Campbell says. “You’re dealing with multiple languages, language barriers, you’re dealing with different currencies … finding someone that even has dollars … trying to get an agent to understand where we need to get to.

“It’s one of those ‘You can’t get there from here.”

The group first tried to reboard Norwegian Dawn four days later, in Gambia, but the ship failed to make the scheduled stop due to low tides. The group then had to travel through six countries, according to their account, before successfully meeting the ship in Dakar, Senegal.

The Campbells have told media they were the only members of the group with a Visa card and spent over $5,000 trying to reach the liner.

Speaking to ABC15, Campbell recalls: “What we looked at was some type of van transportation for eight people, the quadriplegic woman included.” He explains the group had to take a ferry to Senegal, followed by a four-hour drive.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line said it had been a “very unfortunate situation”, but reiterated the need for passengers to adhere to scheduled departure times. The firm has agreed to reimburse the passengers for their travel costs.

“On the afternoon of 27 March 2024, 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 organized through us missed the last tender back to the vessel, therefore not meeting the all aboard time of 3pm local time,” the statement reads.

“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.

“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. Our team has been working closely with the local authorities to understand the requirements and necessary visas needed for the guests to rejoin the ship at the next available port of call. Given that these guests were on a private tour and did not return to the ship at the communicated all aboard time, they are responsible for any necessary travel arrangements to rejoin the ship at the next available port of call, per our protocol.

“While the eight guests made arrangements to rejoin the ship in Banjul, Gambia on 2 April, 2024, unfortunately the ship was unable to safely dock in the destination due to adverse weather conditions, as well as tidal restrictions that require specific timing for safe passage. While we share in our guests’ disappointment, this modification was made with great consideration for their safety and that of our crew, which is our top priority. We contacted these eight guests regarding this itinerary adjustment and provided them with authorization to rejoin the ship at Dakar, Senegal on 2 April, 2024.

“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. As of this morning, all eight guests have rejoined the ship.”

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