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Norwegian Cruise Line was right to ditch the late passengers in Africa, travel writer says

Eight people have accused Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) of abandoning them on a tiny island in Africa after a private tour ran late and the group missed the embarkation cut-off time.
Four of the group are elderly and another is pregnant, and though the ship was still at anchor, they were denied boarding.
The ship, the Norwegian Dawn, set sail without them – and it was right to do so.
Once, I was late to check in for a flight. I jumped out of the taxi, sprinted to the counter (which is no mean feat when you’re hauling luggage) and arrived at the desk sweating bullets, prepared to get on my knees and grovel if it meant I’d be allowed through.
I began to tell my sob story to the lady at the desk, heart hammering and lungs gasping for air, when she politely interrupted and shook her head.
Eight people have accused Norwegian Cruise Line of abandoning them on a tiny island in Africa. SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
In the nicest way possible, she said this: “Stiff bickies.” (OK yes, I’ve paraphrased.)
Sure, the plane was still at the airport, no more than a few hundred meters from where I was standing. However, the luggage had already been loaded, the manifest had already been finalized, and the other passengers were already boarding.
There was no way they were going to let me board, nor should they have.
You see, I had been on a whale-watching tour about two-and-a-half hours south of the airport – hey, it was my last day, I wanted to make it count.
I planned it to perfection, except for one detail: we spotted a playful pod right at the very end, so the captain offered to give us some bonus time to enjoy the view.
With one eye on the magnificent mammals, and another on my watch, I held on to a flicker of hope that I might make it.
I jumped on the bus back to town, flagged down a cab, and asked the driver to hurry. I launched out of the car like a 100m sprinter launches out of starting blocks and ran into the terminal.
Alas, my proverbial ship had sailed.
Was it a bummer? Absolutely. But imagine delaying the other 158-or-so passengers scheduled to depart on the Boeing 737, asking the crew to extend their shifts, or holding the plane and disrupting airport traffic … all so little old me could drop off my bags, scurry through security, and find my gate.
Imagine the awkwardness if I stepped onto that plane. What do you say? “Sorry guys, my bad, lol.”
That doesn’t even scratch the surface of a cruise ship’s operations. Norwegian Dawn can accommodate 3,372 people – 2,340 passengers and 1,032 crew – and this group of eight expected it to wait?
A ship’s departure time isn’t exactly a mystery.
I sailed on Norwegian Dawn in February and the departure time was published in NCL’s Freestyle Daily newsletter the night before and announced over the loudspeaker multiple times in the morning.
It was also posted on signs at the doors where guests disembark.
The golden rule is clear: Make sure you’re back on time, or the ship may sail without you.
So what do you do if you’re left behind? Generally there are two options: either catch up with the ship at a later port or head home.
If you’re lucky, you’ll have brought your essentials with you – your passport, phone, credit card, and medication – because all of your belongings will stay on board until the end.
Please don’t get me wrong, of course I’m sympathetic to the distress of those who were left in a foreign country without the safety of the ship.
It would be scary and stressful to figure out next steps, especially for the members of the group with higher needs, and disappointing to miss out on their holidays.
However, the unfortunate reality is that ships can’t always wait.
Private tours are a whole separate issue, because while the ship will wait for official tours – those which have been organized by the cruise ship operator – to return, all bets are off for passengers taking their shore excursions into their own hands.
Unofficial tours can be slightly cheaper than those on the ship’s itinerary, with slightly more availability, so they can be attractive. However, while operators will do their best to stick to scheduled times, all bets are off once you board that bus and leave the port.
Think of it like booking multiple legs of a trip with different airlines. They’re not in the same network, they don’t owe each other anything, and they can’t guarantee that you’ll make your connection. Say the bus breaks down. Maybe someone wanders off and takes ages to find.
Perhaps the group lingers over a delicious lunch. Someone might need to stop at an ATM or a loo. You could get stuck in traffic. Or maybe your tour will be like mine and you’ll see something incredible that simply makes you want to pause.
And so, eight passengers were left in São Tomé and Príncipe, Africa’s second-smallest country.
“While this is a very unfortunate situation, guests are responsible for ensuring they return to the ship at the published time,” NCL said in a statement, adding that it is communicating with the guests about their next steps. It’s harsh but fair, especially since the other 3,364 (or so) people on board got it right.
Kirrily Schwarz recently sailed on Norwegian Dawn as a guest of Norwegian Cruise Line.

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