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Norwegian Cruise captain refused to let eight passengers who were late reboard ship

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Eight cruise passengers had to scramble to reunite with their cruise ship after being left behind in São Tomé and Príncipe.

The passengers, including a pregnant woman and a paraplegic traveller, missed their scheduled departure time from the island of São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea, about 250km off the coast of Gabon, after disembarking the Norwegian Dawn to take a local tour.

Another passenger in her 80s was reportedly late to the ship because she was receiving emergency medical treatment on the island.

The vessel, operated by Norwegian Cruise Lines, arrived in São Tome on Wednesday morning having departed Cape Town for the three-week cruise to Barcelona on 20 March.

The group's private day excursions on the island ran overtime and, despite the efforts of the local coast guard, which motored the group to the ship before it set sail that afternoon, the captain would not allow the late guests to board.

Jill and Jay Campbell, from Garden City in South Carolina, described attempting to board the vessel after arriving late.

"We have never had an experience like this before," Jill Campbell told ABC4 News.

"The harbour master tried to call the ship, the captain refused the call. We sent emails to NCL, the NCL customer service emergency number. They said, 'Well, the only way for us to get in touch with the ship is to send them emails, they're not responding to our emails,'" Jay Campbell added.

"The captain could have made an easy decision to turn one of the tender boats back, pick us up, safely load us, and then go on the way."

The travellers' passports were returned to them via port authorities. The group, which reportedly includes two Australians, had to leave their medication, bank cards and other belongings on board. The Campbells said they were the only members of the group with a Visa card and had paid more than $5,000 in their attempts to reach the ship.

They aimed to reboard the Norwegian Dawn in the Gambia the following Sunday but low tides prevented the ship from making the scheduled stop. The group reportedly travelled through six countries and eventually met the ship in Dakar, Senegal, the final west African port call of its journey, according to the cruise line.

Map showing São Tomé and Príncipe, where the cruise ship passengers were left stranded, and Dakar in Senegal, where they were able to board the ship again.Map showing São Tomé and Príncipe, where the cruise ship passengers were left stranded, and Dakar in Senegal, where they were able to board the ship again.

"What we looked at was some type of van transportation for eight people, the quadriplegic woman included," Jay Campbell told ABC15. He described having to take a ferry to get into Senegal, and then a four-hour drive.

Australians Doug and Violeta Sanders were among the stranded passengers.

"It's been the worst experience of our lives to be abandoned like that in a strange country, can't speak the language," Violeta Sanders told Seven's Sunrise program.

"We have no money, our credit cards aren't accepted."

The 21-day cruise is due to end in Barcelona on 10 April.

A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Lines said it was a "very unfortunate situation" and that it was the passenger's responsibility to be back on board the ship no later than one hour before the ship's scheduled departure time.

A Sydney travel lawyer, Anthony Cordato, said passengers needed to heed ships' tight schedules.

"Terms and conditions would make returning to the ship on time essential," he said.

"From a consumer's perspective, it's harsh but from a ship's perspective, are you going to hold up the cruise for an hour or two because they were slow to get on board? Are you going to inconvenience 1,000 passengers for the sake of four?"

The cruise company said all eight guests had rejoined the ship.

In a statement, a spokesperson 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 3pm local time. 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 print communication and posted just before exiting the vessel.

"When the guests did not return to the vessel at the all aboard time, their passports 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. Given that these guests were on a private tour and did not return to the ship at the communicated all aboard time, they are responsible for any necessary travel arrangements to rejoin the ship at the next available port of call, per our protocol.

"While the eight guests made arrangements to rejoin the ship in Banjul, Gambia on April 1, 2024, 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. We contacted these eight guests regarding this itinerary adjustment and provided them with authorization to rejoin the ship at Dakar, Senegal on April 2, 2024.

"Despite the series of unfortunate events outside of our control, we will be reimbursing these eight guests for their travel costs from Banjur, Gambia to Dakar, Senegal. As of this morning, all eight guests have rejoined the ship."

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