Wednesday, April 1, 2009

To summarise ...

This blog was set up during Costa’s problem-plagued ‘Jewels of the Indian Ocean’ cruise that set off from Mauritius in Saturday 14th February 2009.

Its primary purpose was to act as a central point of reference for the many English-speaking passengers who were dissatisfied with the huge changes made by Costa to the itinerary during the cruise, thus giving them a means of staying in touch once they had left the ship and returned home.

In the intervening weeks many other complaints were raised about Costa’s management of a large number of aspects of life on board, but without the itinerary changes these would probably have been less contentious and might well have been left unreported.

So, the purpose of this posting is three-fold:

- to summarise the vast discrepancy between Costa’s published ‘Jewels of the Indian Ocean’ itinerary and the one that passengers subsequently experienced

- to explain why Costa’s compensation of €300 per passenger for their failure to provide the promised itinerary was desperately insufficient and why, weeks after the end of the cruise, there is still bad feeling against Costa amongst passengers.

- to demonstrate that it was engine problems and not political instability that denied us the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Madagascar

The details of the ‘Advertised’ and the ‘Actual’ cruises were published here. Briefly, we lost four advertised ports of call, i.e. all of Madagascar and also Réunion (reduced from ten hours to just one). For those of us who weren’t told in advance there was also a fifth missed port of call; Mayotte. It also meant that instead of around four days at sea and ten ashore we had about ten at sea and only four ashore.

In the explanations provided to individual customers who returned home and wrote letters of complaint Costa has majored on a ‘Force Majeure’ defence, i.e. the political instability in Madagascar, and has played down the engine failure that slowed the Europa to half speed. In other words, on the one hand they have focused on an element of the cruise for which they have no obligation to provide compensation, and on the other haven’t appropriately addressed a key failure that fell entirely within their own control, i.e. the crippling engine failure. However, as will be shown, a far more likely reason for the loss of all the Madagascar stops was the faulty engine.

Shortly before our departure many of us received a letter from Costa that warned us that, ‘we could be forced to modify the cruise itineraries … by cancelling all the scheduled calls in Madagascar in order to protect the safety and tranquility of the Guests.’ The promise was made that, should this be necessary Costa would schedule, ‘an additional overnight in Mahé (Seychelles), in Mombasa (Kenya) and in Réunion St. Denis (Réunion) thus offering to guests the possibility to experience a Holiday discovering these wonderful and fascinating destinations’.

On joining the ship we were delighted to see that two Madagascan ports of call, Nosy Bé and Diego Suarez, remained on the schedule. Indeed, Costa was selling several excursions for those ports, so clearly there were no problems there in the first week of the cruise. There was no warning that Madagascar would be missed out altogether until the afternoon of Monday 23rd February. By this time, it was subsequently apparent, there was barely enough time to limp back to Réunion at little over ten knots to hastily disembark passengers who had joined the cruise there and then to dash for Mauritius to disembark the rest of us.

The fault in the starboard engine became apparent the day after we left Mahé. On the Friday morning the decks and sunbeds were covered with oily ash, and it subsequently became obvious when black smoke started belching from the funnel that there was a major problem with one of the engines. We then arrived in Mombasa a day late, thus demonstrating the reduced speed of the ship on only one engine. Repairs in Mombasa meant staying there for an extra night before we set off for Réunion, missing Madagascar entirely.

And while all this was going on what exactly might have been happening in Madagascar that made Costa decide not to call there? Not a lot, really; nothing that hit the international headlines, anyway. If the situation in Madagascar was so dire from 23rd to 25th February how was it that in the intervening fortnight things returned so completely to normal that the Europa was able to call at all three ports there in perfect safety from 9th to 11th March. What’s more, how was it that on Friday 20th March the Europa visited Nosy Bé with a coup d’état having taken place only three days earlier and with the African Union that day suspending Madagascar and threatening sanctions?

If the northern Madagascan ports were so dangerous to visit then we should have been told this categorically before departure and been given the option of canceling our cruise plus a full refund. Demonstrably, the position in the north of that country remained safe and stable throughout the political crisis, for why else would Costa Europa have repeatedly called there after the disastrous 14th/28th February cruise and throughout the coup d’état?

So, to summarise and make things crystal clear, the loss of the two stops in Madagascar was due to the engine problem, with one day lost at sea on the way to Mombasa and the other in Mombasa itself. Nothing to do with ‘sociopolitical problems’, merely engineering failure. It is for this reason that we continue to hold Costa responsible for our ‘ruined cruise’, to directly quote Comandante Donato Salvatore.