Yet another cruise ship has been unable to land passengers at St Helena – but this time, the captain pressed to be allowed to remain off the island overnight, in the hope of a calmer sea.
That was in marked contrast to the actions of the captain of the P&O cruise ship Arcadia, whose passengers were prevented from landing in “millpond conditions” in 2012.
But there was some concern that it would be difficult to provide as many buses and taxis to take visitors round the island on a Monday, because they would be needed to get people to work and school.
Forty eight staff of the airport construction firm, Basil Read, were on board the MSC Sinfonia, including the chief executive.
The company secured special permission to bring them ashore on island boats. “We had written confirmation from the captain stating that if he declares it unsafe, we can use private tenders to ferry people on shore and back on to the ship,” said a spokesman.
Staff were returning from leave or arriving to start work on the island for the first time. Others will sail back to South Africa on leave, returning on the RMS St Helena.
Solomon’s had arranged to have 33 buses on the seafront, ready for the arrival of several hundred sightseers. Several shops had arranged to open, as had the bank, post office, Napoleonic houses and the distillery. Stalls were set up too.
Two walking tours of Jamestown, hosted by Basil and Barbara George, were rescheduled for Monday.
Vince Thompson, writing in the St Helena Independent, had predicted that sea conditions might be a problem. “It is worrying that the swell has been quite heavy over the last week,” he said, admitting that the height of waves in mid-week would have prevented landing of a large number of passengers.
Boatman Graham Sim was at the landing steps when officers came alongside in one of the ship’s boats. Conditions were “reasonably good,” he told a reporter for SHBC radio.
“Two days ago it was quite heavy, but it has dropped considerably. Although it is not calm, from the island point of view it was workable for boats to come alongside and take people off.”
But he said the captain’s situation was not the same as for local boatmen.
Julian Morris, the island’s head of economic development, watched the Sinfonia’s tender moving “up and down and backwards and forwards” against the steps.
He told the SHBC: “The town looks great. Everything is open, so everyone is going to be extremely disappointed. Everything is well set and would show the island off really well.
“Ultimately it’s the captain’s decision and he is responsible for the safety of all of his passengers and crew. I saw Barry the harbour master chatting with him, giving him advice and trying to change his opinion, but at the end of the day it’s the captain’s prerogative.”
The Facebook page set up to promote the cruise – and out-and-back trip from Cape Town -gives no hint that landing might be a problem. It says:
“Enjoy two full sea days before the vessel heaves to off the island, where the ship’s tenders will be lowered to ferry passengers ashore at Jamestown, the island’s main town.
“Being the island’s only port (and with the proposed airport yet to be built) the town is the only entrance to the island for visitors, and can be especially busy with tourists when a cruise ship stops just off the coast.
“After a full day of sightseeing, and once passengers are safely aboard again, the MSC Sinfonia sets sail at 18h00 in a southerly direction towards Cape Town.”
A further inspection of sea conditions was due at first light on Monday.