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Island loses ‘£100,000’, but P&O declines to express regret

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Arcadia's lifeboat a few feet from the landing steps at Jamestown
Unsafe swell, or a calm sea? Arcadia's lifeboat at the landing steps (picture: Bruce Salt)

It’s thought St Helena lost up to £100,000 because passengers on the cruise ship MV Arcadia were not allowed to land on the island, in what’s been called a “flat calm” sea.

The island’s tourism association is now pursuing a grievance with P&O Cruises and its parent company, Carnival Cruise Lines.

Arcadia lies off shore, viewed down Main Street, Jamestown
Arcadia lies off shore, viewed down Main Street, Jamestown

St Helena Online has invited P&O Cruises to express its regret that islanders went to so much trouble to prepare for many hundreds of visitors, all for nothing. So far, no acknowledgement of the islanders’ loss and frustration has been received, despite repeated approaches.

P&O says the swell was too great at the wharf. That’s failed to satisfy Vince Thompson of St Helena Tourism Association.

‘How sad that Saints have been taken for granted in
his insensitive manner’ – see comments (below)

“The sea was flat calm,” says Vince. “It is a mystery to everyone in St Helena that anyone could judge the sea conditions to be too rough for landing passengers.

“Many people put considerable time, effort and money into preparing special attractions and services for the Arcadia’s passengers; not just in Jamestown but also at Longwood Green, near Napoleon’s Longwood House. It is estimated at least £100,000 was lost on that day.”

This is the correspondence between St Helena Online and P&O’s press office:

MV Arcadia
MV Arcadia

17 April, 2012,  email to P&O Cruises: Hi. There’s a lot of discontent on St Helena because the Arcadia sailed away without landing passengers. There are stories running in the island media.

St Helena is a very poor island: the few ship days are important to the livelihoods of many islanders. Gearing up to cope with a rush of visitors is a logistical challenge on an island that is supplied by sea – your passenger numbers were almost equivalent to half the population.

Islanders understand that sea conditions are a problem sometimes, but the feeling is that they were fine.

Could you give the islanders, via St Helena Online, an explanation of what happened? Could you also confirm – or not – that the captain took the view that if some passengers could not go ashore, then none of them should? Could you confirm that the average age of passengers was 75 (quoted on the island)?

18 April, 2012, from P&O Cruises press office: P&O Cruises Arcadia was not able to maintain the call in St Helena on Monday 16 April as there was considerable swell at the landing stage which made it imprudent to land any passengers ashore. The safety and security of our passengers and crew is our absolute priority.

The Captain is Ian Walters. We don’t give out average ages on any of our cruises.

18 April, 2012 (9.28pm), to P&O Cruises: Hi. I think the islanders would appeciate a comment from P&O acknowledging the efforts islanders go to in order to cope with 2,000 people arriving at once, and the frustration and financial loss they experience. Might a few words be possible?

The swell may have been too much for some passengers, but certainly not for all. Could you clarify your position on this, please? With thanks.

19 April, 2012, (8.16pm), to P&O Cruises: Should I assume that there won’t be any further response on this? Please let me know by midday Friday (20 April) whether the requested comment will be forthcoming. If not, I’ll run a story based on what I’ve got.

The island newspaper, The Sentinel, sets out in some detail the lengths to which islanders had gone to prepare for the visit, and their reaction to the decision not to allow passengers ashore.

If it helps you, perhaps P&O could make a comment about the fact that St Helena Government is planning to build a breakwater with more reliable landing facilities? Background here.

Still no response was received. In fact, it transpired the press officer was not working on Friday, but had failed to leave an out-of-office message. Another press officer was unable to help at short notice.


The sea was like a millpond. They also missed the most spectacular sunset. The most beautiful I have seen in the five months that we have been here. It was so sad to see the efforts of so many dashed by the decision not to come ashore. People on the island spent days, weeks and possibly longer preparing for this visit. Extra hands were hired at the hotel in preparation for the island’s guests. Imagine baking a thousand cupcakes and countless pastries apart from all the other food prepared by local restuarants and food outlets. Imagine if the cruisers had come ashore and no one had gone to the trouble of preparing anything. Precious resources were used up in order to ensure that the visitors would be happy and satisfied. It is in the nature of the people of this precious island to ensure that no visitor goes hungry and unnoticed. How sad, that they should have been taken for granted in this insensitive manner. I was told this has happened previously.

Ingrid Newman, St Helena
via Facebook

Cruise ships sometimes fail to land passengers, but the RMS St Helena has (I think) never been unable to disembark and embark its travellers.  So the message must be: if you really want to see St Helena, travel on the RMS St Helena!

John Turner, St Helena
Random Thoughts From Offshore
(island blog)

Dam Captin!

Basil Joshua
via Facebook

Tourist cash sails away – in a ‘millpond’ sea
Funding shortfall delays safer landing stage

MV Arcadia

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