As South Africa looks ahead to the coming cruise season, Cruise Arabia & Africa thought it worthwhile to consider the facts and figures involved in cruising during the cyclone season.
For the South-West Indian Ocean, the cyclone season typically runs from the beginning of July to the end of May. As Murphy’s Law would have it, this is also the prime months of the South African cruise season, which will officially begin this year on October 28th when MSC Opera departs Cape Town on a 4-day cruise up the coast to Namibia.
MSC Opera will be re-deployed to Durban at the beginning of November, sailing 28 round-trip cruises in the Indian Ocean. The image below shows all the tropical storms and cyclones that were tracked during the 2013-14 season, and although many of them occurred far out to sea between the coasts of South Africa and Australia, there is a high concentration of weather systems that occurred in the Mozambican Channel – the waters that MSC Opera will be cruising.
For the past several decades, however, the South African cruise season has always coincided with the region’s cyclone season. While moderate to severe tropical storms have led to exciting video footage being uploaded to YouTube on more than one occasion, severe weather in the Indian Ocean has not led to the sinking of a ship since the Oceanos went down in 1991 between East London and Durban.
Achille Lauro, which sank off the coast of Somalia while en-route to her Durban cruise season in 1994, foundered due to an explosion in the engine room, which caused a severe fire. So, the history of the South African cruise industry speaks for itself, the modern cruise sector is extremely safe and the only real danger during cyclone season is that your cruise might be delayed, or one of your ports of call might be cancelled.
Cruise Arabia & Africa has the privilege of meeting countless fellow cruise passengers every year, however, and the same questions regarding cyclones and cruising often come up, so we thought we’d set the record straight on cruising during the cyclone season.
Can a cruise ship run from a cyclone?
Generally speaking, yes. A cruise ship like MSC Opera can reach 22-knots when her captain really stretches her legs and runs the four Wärtsilä engines up to their full power output of 41,000hp.
Your average cyclone on the other hand, travels at around 8-knots (10-knots if she’s a runner). So the chances of getting ‘caught’ in a cyclone in the Indian Ocean are rare, especially as cruise ships during the South African cruise season navigate up and down the coasts of South Africa and Mozambique, with just one or two runs across open ocean to Mauritius.
In addition, cruise ships have extremely sophisticated weather tracking systems and major cruise lines like MSC Cruises work with leading weather forecasters to keep their vessels out of harms way.
Can the seas be rougher during the cyclone season, even if there isn’t a storm?
South African cruise passengers have often remarked that, although the sky is clear and there is only a mild wind blowing, the seas seem to be running with a larger swell than one would expect in such conditions.
In fact, it is one of our little joys in life to feel the bows lift to the swell leaving Durban Harbour. It marks the beginning of a cruise, the start of an adventure. There is a reason for that powerful, long ocean swell, however.
With 4,000 nautical miles between the coast of South Africa and Western Australia, there is an awful lot of ocean in which swells radiating out from a storm system can build up and gather power as they head toward South Africa.
So, in answer to that question, yes, the seas of the South-West Indian Ocean can be rougher during cyclone season, even if there is no cyclone or tropical storm in the vicinity, because a cyclone hundreds of nautical miles away can still make its presence known.
Can passengers be compensated for missed port calls?
No. As many an experiences cruise passenger will tell you, it does not matter how long you argue your case at the Guest Relations desk, you will not get a refund just because you didn’t get to step ashore at Portuguese Island.
It is only in exceptional circumstances that a cruise line might offer compensation due to the weather, for instance if a Cyclone Demoina-type event occurred and a cyclone made landfall in South Africa, forcing the cancellation of the cruise altogether.
Editor’s note: Cyclone Demoina was in fact only a tropical storm, but she made landfall during the peak of her strength, devastating parts of Mozambique, including the capital, Maputo.
She then moved inland and south, causing extreme flooding in Swaziland and Richards Bay. Although the storm was not in fact of cyclone strength, she is commonly referred to, in the media and by the public, as Cyclone Demoina.