Stranded cruise passengers in Africa race to rejoin their ship

Eight cruise passengers left behind in the African island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe have been struggling for days to catch up with their Norwegian Cruise Line ship as it makes its way up the western coast of Africa.

The passengers were late getting back to the ship on March 27, according to a statement from Norwegian Cruise Line.

“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 3 p.m. local time,” the statement said.

“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 communication and posted just before exiting the vessel.”

Norwegian Cruise Line said that the passengers’ passports were handed over to local port agents for the guests to collect. The cruise line said that since the guests were on a private tour and missed the specified time, they are responsible for the cost of getting to the next available port of call to rejoin the ship. The cruise line said it was working with local authorities and communicating with the stranded passengers.

According to stranded South Carolina couple Jill and Jay Campbell, who have been in contact with CNN affiliate WPDE about their situation, a group of eight stranded passengers spent 15 hours traveling through six countries to try to rejoin their ship on Sunday in Gambia.

But the ship was unable to dock that day “due to adverse weather conditions, as well as tidal restrictions that require specific timing for safe passage,” the cruise line said.

The Campbells told WPDE that the group would next try to get to Senegal, where the ship was scheduled to call into port on Tuesday.

The cruise line said it contacted the group about the itinerary adjustment and provided authorization for them to join the ship in Senegal, and will reimburse the guests for travel costs from Banjur, Gambia to Dakar, Senegal.

The Campbells boarded the ship on March 20. The website shows that the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn had arrived early Tuesday at port in Dakar, Senegal.

The Campbells told WPDE that several members of the group are elderly, another is a paraplegic and one woman is pregnant. They said one member of the group has been without his heart medication for five days and had become ill.

A missed all-aboard time

The group’s mad dash started after a tour on São Tomé and Príncipe ran long on March 27.

“We were like, ‘Our time is getting really short,’ and they were like, ‘No problem, we can get you back within an hour,’” Jay Campbell said of the tour organizers. Campbell told WPDE that the tour operator contacted the captain to say that the passengers were on their way but would be late. The ship was still in port when they got back, but Campbell said that the captain would not let them on board.

“The harbor master tried to call the ship, the captain refused the call,” Campbell told WPDE late last week. “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.”

The Campbells told WPDE the group was left without their medications and that most passengers didn’t have credit cards that were accepted on São Tomé and Príncipe, so the Campbells spent thousands of dollars on their Visa card for lodging and essentials for the group.

The Campbells said one additional passenger who was not on their tour had a medical emergency and was hospitalized on São Tomé, leaving her stranded as well. The Campbells said they were able to get in touch with that passenger’s daughter back in California to help coordinate her return to North America.

The cruise line later told CNN that the passenger was medically disembarked after being evaluated by the ship’s medical team for “further assessment and treatment as needed from a local hospital.”

“We attempted to call the guest several times, and as we were unable to reach her, we worked directly with our port agent in São Tomé and Príncipe, an African island nation, to receive updates about the guest,” Norwegian Cruise Line said.

The passenger’s daughter, who spoke with WPDE, disputes the cruise line’s account of how her mother’s situation unfolded.

CNN’s Sarah Dewberry contributed to this report.

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