Cruise liner’s port call falls through

Posted on Mar 15 2012

Anticipation and excitement over the arrival of Queen Mary 2 on Saipan turned to anxiety and disappointment Thursday after the luxury ocean liner called off its planned passenger landing at the Smiling Cove Marina due to high winds and rough seas.

The captain of the 1,132-foot long vessel made the decision to cancel the port call, advising passengers and crew members that they will not be allowed to disembark as the rough weather was causing 6- to 8-foot swells with 1 to 2 feet of white caps, and 15- to 20-knot winds—making it unsafe to carry the ship’s 4,000 passengers to shore by batches aboard “tenders” or boats.

CNMI Homeland Security special assistant Marvin K. Seman, safety and security coordinator for the Queen Mary 2 arrival, and Commonwealth Ports Authority Port of Saipan manager Mary Ann Q. Lizama confirmed in a news briefing yesterday at the Boating Safety Office that all these “contributing factors” were taken into account in making the decision.

Seman said their team planned for all contingencies, except for this situation where they had no control over.

“I know everybody was looking forward to it but it’s just sad that the weather was not in our favor. I just wish Mother Nature was nicer this year,” said Seman, adding that even the Emergency Management Office issued a small craft advisory to warn mariners against rough seas.

Touted as the “most magnificent luxury ocean liner ever built,” Queen Mary 2 is owned by U.K.-based Cunard Lines. It arrived on Saipan waters at 4:45am, anchoring about a mile and a half from the shore at 5:15am but left at 10am, seven hours ahead of schedule.

Cunard Lines also owns Queen Victoria, the 964.5-foot cruise ship that docked on Saipan in 2009 and brought over 2,700 passengers and crew members to the island.

CPA’s Lizama disclosed that it was the Queen Victoria’s successful visit that inspired Queen Mary 2 to include Saipan in its itinerary. “They graciously brought it to our attention that they wanted to explore Saipan,” she said, noting that this is the first cruise ship to arrive on Saipan and not disembark passengers.

Seman said that Queen Mary 2’s visit required 19 months of planning and preparation, including the last and most eventful three to four days needed for site preparations done by over 50 key members of the task force created especially for the ship’s visit.

Upon the arrival of Queen Mary 2 early yesterday morning, Seman said a five-member team composed of himself, CPA and Public Health officials were on board the launch boat Carolinian to conduct an assessment.

Seman noted that they had to wait until daylight “to get a visual and to try to explore the possibility of sending out the passengers” using tenders given the wind and sea conditions.

“I agree with the captain’s decision because the conditions were pretty rough. It will be a dangerous situation if the tenders don’t perform well so they’re not going to risk the safety of their passengers,” he said.

Seman, who was among the privileged few to go aboard Queen Mary 2, welcomed the ship officials on behalf of the Saipan community. He described the liner as a “very majestic and grand” vessel.

“It’s like an entirely different world inside Queen Mary 2,” said Seman. “No matter how rough the seas were outside, you wouldn’t feel it when you’re inside the beautiful ship.”

Seman said the Queen Mary 2 task force stayed up until 10pm the night before to secure the Smiling Cove Marina, not only for the ship’s passengers and crew members but also for the 18 food and arts and crafts vendors that set up shop in the area as early as 5am yesterday.

About 13 local performing groups were also on standby at the marina but they, too, were dismayed at the cancellation. Around 9am, only task force members and one or two vendor staffers were seen at the site to put away their stuff.

A food vendor manager who wished to remain anonymous said their staff prepared breakfast menu for 200 persons and brought it to the site as early as 6am.

“It’s disappointing because it would mean income loss for us,” said the manager. “But it was nature that caused it and nobody could have predicted that. We just have to charge it to experience.”

Joeten finance manager Claudia Tenorio Adriano said in a separate interview that she and five more employees were at the Smiling Cove as early as 6am along with six seven-passenger mini-vans to provide free shuttle service to the ship’s passengers and allow them to do their shopping at Joeten stores.

Adriano said their stores—the Hafa Adai Shopping Center in Garapan, Joeten Superstore in San Jose, and the Joeten Susupe Center—all opened at least an hour earlier than usual to accommodate the early shoppers from the ship.

“While it’s very understandable that the captain’s concern is the safety and well-being of the passengers, we’re just really sad that it had come to this because we and a lot of other vendors made a lot of preparations to set up. We’re just really sad that the passengers missed out on the beauty that Saipan has to offer and the hospitality that we were ready to show them,” she told Saipan Tribune.

Adriano, who said that this is the first time that they took part in welcoming cruise passengers, assured that they will still take part in any similar events in the future. “It’s not going to deter us from trying to do this again in the future. When the next cruise ship is ready to come back, we’ll be ready again to provide free shuttle service for the passengers,” she added.

Instead of welcoming tourists, elected officials and agency heads who were at the marina yesterday morning ended up talking to vendors who were unable to sell their merchandise.

Acting governor Eloy S. Inos, who was on site at about 8am, said in a statement that the administration understands the “tough decision” the Queen Mary 2 captain had to make to cancel this part of the cruise, which resulted to passengers missing out the chance to tour the beautiful island of Saipan, enjoy local cuisines, and bring home local mementos.

Inos acknowledged the “quick response” and “understanding” of vendors, government agencies, entertainers, and the rest of the community who got involved in the preparation for the event.

“Much effort went into getting a representation of the community ready for the ship’s arrival and we thank all of them for their cooperation and participation,” said Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Perry Tenorio. “I am sure that they share our disappointment but we hope that they will avail themselves again the next time the Queen Mary calls to port here in the Northern Marianas.”

CPA’s Lizama pointed out that Cunard Lines has expressed interest that it will return to Saipan once again.

Queen Mary 2 will be heading to Osaka and Nagasaki in Japan, Shanghai and Hong Kong in China, then to Phu My in Vietnam and Laem Chabang in Thailand.

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