How these cruise passengers missed boarding, got stranded in Africa

Both Americans and Australians were left at port after an excursion ran long.

ByGMA Team GMA logo
Tuesday, April 2, 2024
How these cruise passengers missed boarding, got stranded
After what seemed like a dream trip, several American travelers were left stranded at port after an excursion ran long.

After what seemed like a dream trip, several American travelers were left stranded at port in West Africa mid-cruise while traveling from Cape Town, South Africa, to Barcelona, Spain.

Jay and Jill Campbell told ABC News Myrtle Beach affiliate WPDE that they were in the first week of a three week voyage aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines when they stopped just off the coast of West Africa.

The couple and others opted to tour the nearby island of São Tomé and Príncipe on the afternoon of March 27, and when the excursion ran late, they said they brought it to the guides' attention.

"We were like, 'our time is getting short,'" Jay Campbell recalled, at which point he said the guide let them know, "'No problem we can get you back in an hour.'"

Upon their return, the passengers said cruise officials refused to let them aboard the ship, even as the local Coast Guard had ferried the group to the anchored vessel.

"The harbormaster tried to call the ship. The captain refused the call. We sent emails to NCL the customer service emergency number," Jay Campbell said. "They said the only way for us to get in touch with the ship is via email. They're not responding to our emails."

The Campbells say they were left stranded along with four other Americans and two Australians -- of whom one is a paraplegic, one has a heart condition and one is pregnant. Some did not have credit cards or medication that was left on board.

Cruise expert Stewart Chiron, known as The Cruise Guy, told ABC News that "the bottom line was, they were hours late, the ship was ready to go."

"More than likely that the anchor was already up, and the ship was already possibly moving," he said.

He continued, "Any operation at that point to get these passengers back on the ship would have caused tremendous delays, and safety would have been a major concern."

In a statement to ABC News, a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Lines said, "On the afternoon of March 27, 2024, while the ship was in São Tomé and Príncipe, an African island nation, eight guests who were on the island on a private tour not organized through us missed the last tender back to the vessel, therefore not meeting the all aboard time of 3 p.m. local time."

They continued, "While this is a very unfortunate situation, guests are responsible for ensuring they return to the ship at the published time, which is communicated broadly over the ship's intercom, in the daily communication and posted just before exiting the vessel."

The spokesperson added that the passports for the passengers who did not return at the all aboard time "were delivered to the local port agents to retrieve when they returned to the port, as per the regular protocol."

"Our team has been working closely with the local authorities to understand the requirements and necessary visas needed for the guests to rejoin the ship at the next available port of call," they said.

The Campbells said that their eight person group spent 15 hours traveling through six countries in an attempt to rejoin the Norwegian Dawn ship in Banjul, Gambia, on April 1. However, the ship couldn't dock due to low tide, so they are now trying to get to Senegal where the ship is meant to dock on Tuesday.

The Norwegian spokesperson said, "Unfortunately the ship was unable to safely dock in the destination due to adverse weather conditions, as well as tidal restrictions that require specific timing for safe passage. While we share in our guests' disappointment, this modification was made with great consideration for their safety and that of our crew, which is our top priority."

The cruise line contacted the guests "regarding this itinerary adjustment and provided them with authorization to rejoin the ship at Dakar, Senegal on April 2, 2024."

In light of the "series of unfortunate events outside of our control," the spokesperson said Norwegian Cruise Lines "will be reimbursing these eight guests for their travel costs from Banjur, Gambia to Dakar, Senegal" and are still in communication with the guests to provide additional information as it becomes available.

In a separate, unrelated situation that took place coincidentally on the same day of the voyage, the spokesperson said, "An 80-year-old woman was medically disembarked after being evaluated by our onboard medical team, who thought it best that she receive further assessment and treatment as needed from a local hospital."

"In instances such as these, as the guest was released from the hospital and in a coherent state, our protocol is to contact the guest directly, as we would not have the authority to share any medical details with anyone else without their expressed consent," the spokesperson added, saying they worked with the port agent to receive updates.

"The guest has since been escorted on a flight to Lisbon, Portugal, and then put in the care of airport staff to continue her journey to the United States, where she has now made a safe return," they said.