Tourists Make Mad Dash Across Africa to Catch Cruise Ship That Stranded Them

Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images
Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

Eight unlucky tourists were forced to add some unexpected stops to their vacation when a Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) ship marooned them off the west coast of Africa, turning their dream getaway into a travel nightmare.

The group—which included a pregnant woman, four elderly people, and one person with a heart condition—was stranded on São Tomé and Príncipe without any credit cards or medication. They had failed to make it back to the Norwegian Dawn by its 3 p.m. departure time on Wednesday, and said the cruise ship refused to answer their calls for help as they crossed international borders and tried to catch up with it.

“We’ve never had anything like this happen before,” Jill Campbell, one of the passengers, told WRAL.

The Dawn was still docked when the passengers arrived after the cutoff time, Campbell and her husband, Jay, told U.S. media outlets. But to their dismay, cruise personnel refused to let the group aboard and ignored their calls.

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“The harbor master tried to call the ship, the captain refused the call,” Jay Campbell told ABC 4 News. He described a frustrating conversation with NCL’s customer service that sent him in circles trying to get in touch with someone.

“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,’” Campbell said.

They were even ferried out to the cruise ship by speedboat, thanks to the island’s coast guard, but again refused entry, Campbell said. Cruise personnel returned their passports to the dock but held onto any credit cards, medications, and other essentials that were left on board.

Back on the island, the group encountered yet another cruise passenger who’d been abandoned—an 80-year-old who was hospitalized and then left without money when the ship took off without her. Thankfully, the group helped the 80-year-old on a flight back to the U.S., while the rest of the group appealed to the U.S. embassy in nearby Angola to figure out how to reunite with the ship.

On Sunday, the passengers traveled to The Gambia in the hopes of catching the Norwegian Dawn at port. But the ship never made port in The Gambia—a low tide prevented it from docking, and instead it sailed on towards neighboring Senegal, where the passengers will try to catch it again.

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In response, Norwegian Cruise Line called the situation “unfortunate” but shifted responsibility to the passengers for missing the departure deadline.

“Guests are responsible for ensuring they return to the ship at the published time,” they said in a statement, adding that the departure time was “communicated broadly” all over the vessel. “Guests are responsible for any necessary travel costs to rejoin the ship at the next available port of call.”

The cruise line also said it had been coordinating with “local authorities” to understand what the guests would need if they were to rejoin the ship, and that it was “in communication with the guests.”

That statement is at odds with what the Campbells told American media. As of Sunday, they said they had not heard back from the cruise line.

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