Fourth cruise ship hit with biofouling problem

New Zealand authorities and cruise industry executives were meeting this week after two more cruise ships were denied entry to ports as a result of “dirty hull syndrome.”

New Zealand has long had tough biofouling regulations, concerned at it is that the hulls of cruise ships were a major danger when it came to the importation of biohazards new to the islands. However, with the first fully active high season since the pandemic began in 2020 now underway, it would appear that some cruise ships have built up unacceptable levels of biofouling on their hulls during many months of forced inactivity.

Australia in June 2022 introduced similar new biofouling standards for ships.

On January 7th and 8th Cunard Line’s cruise ship Queen Elizabeth (IMO 9477438) became the fourth cruise ship told by Biosecurity New Zealand that it would need to clean its hull of potential biohazards before it would be permitted into some of the country’s most sensitive areas.

The cruise ships are being denied entry to Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, and the ports along the South Island, should they be judged not to meet New Zealand’s biofouling standards. The ships included the Viking Orion (IMO 9796250) at New Year, then the Seven Seas Explorer (IMO 9703150), and now the Queen Elizabeth. All were given restricted access on a temporary basis to commercial ports while being instructed to arrange for hull cleaning by approved vendors before returning to New Zealand.

Earlier in December, Princess Cruises’ Coral Princess was also denied entry into Milford Sound due to reports of snails on the hull.

Biosecurity New Zealand environmental health manager Paul Hallett said that new Zealand had not toughened its rules, but that it was increasing enforcement to reduce the entry of pests into their waters.

“The current biofouling standards were introduced in 2018, and Biosecurity New Zealand undertakes significant stakeholder engagement to help vessel operators comply with biofouling requirements,” said Hallett. “As a result, we have seen an increase in proactive management of vessel hulls by operators and in awareness of our biofouling rules.”

New Zealand monitors for, amongst other things, mussels, oysters, foliose algae, hydroids, tunicates, sponges, crabs, and starfish that are attached to the hull of arriving vessels. The ships are required to submit reports to Biosecurity NZ.

The Queen Elizabeth was reported as being forced to skip two ports on the current cruise, with the scenic cruising. The cruise ship however will still dock in Wellington, Lyttelton, Tauranga, and the Bay of Islands, but will not pass through Fiordland or stop in Dunedin.

A spokesperson for Cunard Line said that “cruise operators along with the broader shipping industry are adapting to the standard, with a wide variety of commercial ships also requiring additional cleaning to meet the requirements in 2022/23.”

Although the Seven Seas Explorer submitted pre-arrival documentation to New Zealand, Hallett said that “It didn’t meet our biofouling standards because of higher than allowed levels of algae, barnacles, tube worms, and potential oysters present.” The cruise ship was reportedly deferring its arrival into New Zealand’s waters to complete the required hull cleaning. The cruise was skipping ports while heading to Adelaide, Australia because the cruise line said it was unable to find a vendor to do the work in New Zealand.

In December the Viking Orion remained at sea for eight days after being denied entry into ports both in New Zealand and Australia. Viking Line described the hull as experiencing “a limited amount of marine growth.”

“Nothing in particular has changed, with the exception that there were probably more inspections being carried out this season because of the gap since ships were here last,” said Kevin O’Sullivan chief executive of the NZ Cruise Association, representing the industry. The meeting was said to have been “very constructive”. Both Biosecurity NZ and the industry said they were working together to reduce the number of last-minute issues which have resulted in passengers upset at the cruise lines and New Zealand.

2010-built, Bermuda-flagged, 90,901 gt Queen Elizabeth is owned by Cunard Line Ltd and managed by Carnival PLC, both of Southampton, England. It is entered with Steamship Mutual and UK Club. As of January 12th the vessel was underway from Wellington, New Zealand, to Lyttleton, New Zealand, ETA January 12th.

2016-built, Marshall islands-flagged, 55,254 gt Seven Seas Explorer is owned by Explorer New Build LLC care of manager Regent Seven Sea Cruises Inc of Miami, Florida, USA. ISM manager NCL Bahamas Ltd of Miami, Florida, USA. It is entered with Steamship Mutual (Americas Syndicate) on behalf of Explorer New Build LLC. As of January 12th the vessel was underway off Auckland, New Zealand, having left Adelaide, South Australia on January 5th.

2018-built, Norway-flagged, 47,861 gt Viking Orion is owned by Sea 33 Leasing Co Ltd care of manager Viking River Cruises Inc of Woodland Hill, California, USA. ISM manager is Wilhelmsen Ship Management AS. It is entered with Steamship Mutual (European Syndicate) on behalf of Sea 33 Leasing Co Ltd. As of January 12th the Viking Orion was en route from Hobart, Tasmania, Australia (departed January 10th) to New Zealand – ETA and exact location as yet uncertain.