In Focus: Cruise ship rejected by four ports because of ‘marine growth’

Passengers were left stranded off the coast of Australia on New Year’s Eve, as the result of ‘marine growth’ on one of Viking Cruises’ ships.

The vessel had accumulated algae, plants, microorganisms or small animals, known as biofoul, on its exterior, says Australia’s National Maritime Coordination Centre. The ship was ordered to remove the fouling before it was allowed into Australian waters.

Prior to this, Viking Orion was restricted to visiting approved ports and asked to leave New Zealand waters because of algae on its hull. The ship first docked in New Zealand in mid-December and visited commercial ports.

The luxury vessel, which is only four years old, hadn’t docked since casting off from Wellington in New Zealand on Boxing Day, according to ship-tracking website

It was reportedly denied permission to dock in Christchurch, Dunedin and Hobart before setting course for Adelaide says ABC.

Authorities ordered the Viking Orion‘s agent to have its hull cleaned before entering Australian waters.

Inchcape-McKay Shipping managing director Craig Harris told RNZ it was unusual to see cruise ships needing to be cleaned.

He believes the lay-up of ships during the pandemic may be part of the problem.

“They are generally dry-docked and have their hulls cleaned and painted. At the moment, there’s a shortage of facilities all around the world of underwater divers or cleaners.

“My suspicion is that’s the reason why the ships just have not been able to comply fully.”

Cargo ships are often cleaned, sometimes multiple times a week, he says, but this is the first time he remembers cruise ships being cleaned in New Zealand.

“Because of the level of algae and barnacles, the vessel was asked to depart New Zealand waters by 29 December,” biosecurity New Zealand environmental health manager Paul Hallett told the radio station. “The vessel operators chose to leave Wellington after visiting it on 26 December, to have its hull cleaned in Australia.”

A Viking spokesperson said “a limited amount of standard marine growth [was removed] from the ship’s hull in a routine cleaning procedure for nautical vessels”. But, the ship had to miss several stops on its scheduled itinerary “in order for the required cleaning to be conducted”.

“The vessel is required to undergo hull cleaning to remove the biofoul and prevent potentially harmful marine organisms being transported by the vessel,” the federal fisheries department said in a statement.

“Professional divers were engaged directly by the vessel line/agent to clean the hull while at anchor outside Australian waters.

“The management of biofoul is a common practice for all arriving international vessels.”

According to MSN, one passenger wrote on Twitter that passengers were ‘livid’ and said it had been a ‘horrible journey’ as a result of spending a day “sitting at sea where two boats are cleaning the ship hull.

“It’s been the most surreal and enraging experience. I guessed this morning before they announced it that we’d be missing yet another port. Now, I just want to get off this ship and go home,” another passenger said.

One online commentator felt – however – that this was a “fantastic response by nature to these destructive invaders polluting the sea for the sake of snapshot tourism,” with another suggesting that “cruise ships are an environmental nuisance” and a third saying they “should be banned until they run on biodegradable fuel.”

Viking says that a small amount of “standard marine growth” was removed, and that it is working directly with guests on compensation.

Image of a cruse ship, courtesy of Viking Cruises.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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