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Turkish Cruise Shipping - Vistamar Detained (Again) - Two NoroVirus Strikes for Princess - Sojourn Joins Seabourn

by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner"

Last week's report of deaths on board a former ferry running the Gaza blockade reminds us of Turkish cruise ferries. The German-operated but Italian-flag Vistamar is detained in Belfast. And visitors to Seabourn Sojourn swoon.


One-time Turkish Cruise Ferry Involved in Gaza Deaths

Late last Monday, Israeli commandos boarded a ship called the Mavi Marmara (Blue Marmara) and under shipboard resistance to landings from helicopters ended up killing nine of the 400 Turkish passengers among the 581 on board. The ship was trying to break the Israeli embargo on shipments of aid and other items to Gaza as part of a "Free Gaza" peace flotilla. Some have argued that the attack by the Israeli Defence Force, which took place in International waters, was illegal.

While Israel named five suspected terrorists on board, others maintained that passengers were innocent activists and the arguments continue. The ship was seized by the Israelis and taken to Ashdod, from where the bodies and some 520 of the passengers (34 of whom were British) were flown to Istanbul and others arrested.

The 1993-built Mavi Marmara had operated on routes between Istanbul and the Sea of Marmara but had been purchased by the Islamic IHH charity and registered in the Comoros Islands in May, just a few days before the attempt to break the Israeli embargo. Of the other five ships, one was Irish-registered, one each was American, Kiribati and Turkish and two were Greek-registered.

Meanwhile, Deniz Cruise & Ferry, the major Turkish owner involved in this trade, today operates not only ferry services around the Bosphorus but also cruises on the cruise ferries Ankara and Samsun. Since May 15, the Ankara, for example, has been operating 7-day Greek Islands cruises from Cesme, Turkey, to Piraeus, Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes and Kos. This is in addition to Thomson Cruises' new cruise operation from Marmaris with the Thomson Celebration that began this spring.

This class of ship that the Ankara and Samsun belong to has come into the news more recently as Kristina Cruises of Finland have purchased a sister ship, the Kristina Katarina, which was built as the Konstantin Simonov. Other ships in this series included the Lev Tolstoy, Dimitry Shostakovich, Konstantin Chernenko, Mikhail Sholokov, Mikhail Suslov and Georg Ots.
Also from the same series, all of which came from the Polish shipbuilders Stocznia Szcecinska, is the Iskenderun of the Turkish Maritime Lines, making a fleet of ten such cruise ferries. One of this group, the original Konstantin Chernenko, became the Russ, one of the first dedicated cruise ships to trade for Saga.

Deniz Cruise & Ferry is also known as a long-time operator of small cruise ships in the eastern Mediterranean, having chartered its original Ankara to Swan Hellenic Cruises as one of its first dedicated cruise ships.

The point of this story is really to show how close strife can occasionally come to the cruise shipping industry, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, where not that long ago cruise ships such as the Aegean Pearl were used to evacuate Lebanese Canadians from Lebanon, just as an example. Ironically, that same cruise ship has now been purchased from Louis Cruises by Israeli operators.


UK Detains Vistamar For Second Time in Four Years

The Italian-registered cruise ship Vistamar was detained last Wednesday in Belfast after numerous faults were identified on board, including broken and missing fire doors and failure to maintain the vessel in line with International Safety Management (ISM) code.

This is the second time in four years the ship has been detained by the UK's Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which carries out Port State Control inspections in the UK. The first time was on May 18, 2006, when unusable port and starboard tenders; a dirty engine room and oily hazards were among the factors leading to detention.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) detained the Italian-flagged ship Vistamar at the city docks as 10 of the ship's 100 fire doors were faulty. The agency also said that one of her lifeboat engines would not start.

Passengers have been taken to Dublin as work on the ship continues. It may be Friday before the ship is declared safe to continue its voyage.

The ship is owned by German tour operators Plantours and Partner, and boasts an outdoor pool, four-poster bedroom suites and a glass elevator. She had been en route from Invergordon.

Most of the passengers were flown home. The Vistamar set sail later on Saturday but by that time the majority of her more than 200 passengers had already left.

NoroVirus Strikes Princess Ships

Almost 100 people became ill after a viral outbreak on the Sapphire Princess on her return to Seattle yesterday from a 7-night Alaska cruise. Some 96 passengers on board had sought medical attention. The ship had meanwhile asked sick passengers to stay in their rooms while the crew took sanitary precautions. The Sapphire Princess carries 2,000 passengers and set off for Alaska again after the ship has been cleaned.

This was the third NoroVirus outbreak on a "Grand Princess" class ship within a few weeks. When the Grand Princess herself berthed at Southampton on May 22, she had already had an outbreak on a previous voyage.

UK travel lawyers were meanwhile seeking additional affected people on the Grand Princess's return to replenish their own coffers. Irwin Mitchell, who had received a call from affected passengers while the ship was still at sea, were working on a complaint from twenty passengers from that cruise.

Princess, meanwhile, reported that while 57of the 2,468 passengers on the earlier cruise had fallen ill from the outbreak, only five were exhibiting obvious symptoms on the second.The ironic thing about lawyers trying to chase Princess, of course, is that it is people with bad sanitation habits that bring this disease on board in the first place and it is the cruise lines that are put into the position of having to cope with it..

See Through Doors on Seabourn Sojourn

Last week at Greenwich, Twiggy christened Yachts of Seabourn's second new ship, the Seabourn Sojourn. Visiting travel agents returned with great reports, saying that her public rooms were very impressive and that the ship had a real "wow factor." - One of the wow factors was apparently that the public loo doors were of "see through" Italian glass

Now having two new ships with so many verandas Seabourn is in a much better position finally to take on younger competitior Silversea Cruises, who have always had the great veranda advantage.

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