Cruise lines respond to Vanuatu devastation
The cruising community is pulling together following the devastation in Vanuatu caused by Cyclone Pam, which completely destroyed villages and properties. While major cruise lines are having to change itineraries, the response on social media has been incredibly positive and supportive.
Many passengers who have visited Vanuatu previously, and those seeking information about future cruises, have taken to Facebook to express their support and donate funds. The cruise lines are responding by regularly updating their Facebook and Twitter feeds and cruisesalefinder.com.au will also keep you up to date with latest developments.
Winds of more than 300km/h slammed into the island nation over the weekend, with the current death toll currently at 24 and expected to rise, while many more have been injured and thousands left homeless. Information is still being gathered about Vanuatu's 65 inhabited islands.
A number of cruise lines are operating trips in the South Pacific out of Australia, with ships avoiding the likes of Port Vila and Mystery Island and rerouting. Reports claim that 90% of houses in Port Vila have been destroyed. Here are the latest updates from the various cruise operators.
P&O, CARNIVAL: Pacific Dawn / Aurora / Carnival Spirit / Carnival Legend
Pacific Dawn will not be stopping at Port Vila on its Pacific Island Hopper cruise. It was due to arrive there on March 18 and their captain has made a statement, which you can read in full on the P&O Australia Facebook page. He basically stated that Port Vila will not be considered as a cruising port for quite some time, while Mare and the Isle of Pines are also inaccessible for Pacific Dawn. The ship will remain in Noumea overnight, depart on Tues March 17 and stop at Lifou on Wednesday.
P&O Aurora is avoiding the Samoan capital Apia on March 18. Aurora is currently on a world cruise and departed Sydney on March 7. It's due to arrive in Southampton on April 23 and this plan has not changed.
Carnival Spirit's South Pacific eight-day itinerary was altered, with a night in Melbourne and a night in Hobart, Tasmania. A $150 onboard credit was reportedly given to passengers as compensation for the inconvenience.
Carnival Legend will stop off at Santo in the Vanuatu archipelago, carrying supplies such as bottled water and a generator. However, the March 15 Legend trip to Port Vila and Mystery Island will change. Read the latest statements on Carnival's Facebook page.
Carnival has been very proactive in response to Cyclone Pam and pledged AU$150,000 in aid, with charity Save the Children Australia. "Along with our passengers, we feel a very strong bond with the Vanuatu people for the warmth of their welcome over many decades" Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry said.
"The contribution is an immediate first step and we will be guided by our Save the Children partners on what more we and our passengers can do."
Carnival Corporation Chairman Micky Arison has also personally matched that $150,000 figure, taking the contribution to $300,000.
"We are very grateful to Mr Arison and his family foundation for this wonderful gesture, which will have an immediate and positive effect on the relief effort now underway in Vanuatu" Ms Sherry said.
"It will be some time before our cruise ships can again call at Vila but we want to resume voyages as soon as authorities give the all clear because cruise tourism is the mainstay of the Vanuatu economy and it will be vital to help the country rebuild."
However, Carnival is currently telling passengers not to bring food and produce aboard ships to donate to the cause. On social media they confirm that Customs regulations prohibit the offloading of materials without prior approval. They are instead encouraging people to donate via the Save the Children website.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN: Rhapsody of the Seas / Voyager of the Seas
Rhapsody was due to call at Port Vila on Monday March 16, but will instead proceed to Lifou. The Rhapsody itinerary still includes Mare and New Caledonia, before arriving home in Sydney on March 20.
Voyager of the Seas also had a change of plan, but all guests and crew are safe and well. The diversion involved two days in Hobart, then on to Champagne Bay. Voyager arrived in Sydney on March 16. All of the latest news can be found on the Royal Caribbean Facebook page.
RC also announced that they have made a donation of AU$100,000 to the Australian Red Cross to help with the Vanuatu disaster recovery. If you wish to make a pledge or want to find out how you can help, click on the Australia Red Cross Cyclone Pam 2015 Appeal page. There are around 200 Red Cross volunteers already helping those affected.
HOLLAND AMERICA: Oosterdam
Oosterdam skipped Port Vila (March 13) and spent a day at sea. It sailed west from Mystery Island on March 12 to avoid the weather. However, it did reach its scheduled arrival point of Luganville, Vanuatu (March 14). In a statement Holland America confirmed they are continuing to monitor the situation and that the safety of guests and crew is a top priority.
Via their Facebook page, Celebrity have announced that there are no changes currently planned for the Solstice trip which departs Sydney this weekend. It's scheduled to call at New Caledonia and Fiji before returning to Australia on April 3. Check the Celebrity Facebook page for updates, as this is subject to change.
Short-term plan for Port Vila
While the situation is a fluid one with nothing confirmed with regards to other future cruises, current lines travelling to the South Pacific appear to either be incorporating an extra stop or two in their itineraries, or spending longer at sea. As for the short term future of Port Vila, it doesn't appear likely that any cruise ships will be spending any time there. Cruisesalefinder.com.au will keep you updated with any developments.