The Viking Orion in New Zealand and Australia

A liner stuck at sea for a week with its passengers. Its hull deemed too dirty

The Viking Orion, a cruise ship flying the Norwegian flag, was stuck for a week between New Zealand and Australia, unable to dock. Passengers on board for this “New Year’s cruise” were unable to disembark. The reason? The biofouling of the hull, clogged with marine organisms.

From the snow-capped mountains that drop into the cold waters of Alaska, the glass and steel skyscrapers that rise above Hong Kong, the small forest-covered islands of the Gulf of Thailand… These are some of the landscapes usually seen by passengers on the Viking Orion, a cruise ship flying the Norwegian flag. All year round, it makes trips to Southeast Asia, Oceania, or even in the waters west of the North American continent. Only here it is: the passengers who boarded this 930-seater boat for a “New Year’s cruise” were stranded offshore for a week, between New Zealand and Australia, from Monday December 26, 2022 to this Monday January 2, 2023. In question? A form of biological fouling of the hull, called biofouling in English, that is to say the accumulation of algae, micro-organisms and small marine animals, such as molluscs, which have clung to the submerged part of the ship at sea.

“Marine Parasites”

According to real-time ship tracking site Vessel Finder, the Viking Orion left the port of Wellington, New Zealand, on Boxing Day. He had previously arrived in the country in mid-December, according to public broadcaster Radio New Zealand, and then docked in several towns in the archipelago. Previously, he sailed to Alaska in the summer of 2022, before making several trips to Asia and heading to Sydney, Australia on December 8, according to the American trade magazine Maritime Executive.

But on December 26, authorities asked the crew to leave New Zealand waters, with a deadline of December 29. Indeed, the environmental protection services judged that “the quantity of algae and barnacles” present on the hull of the Viking Orion was too great, again according to New Zealand radio.

That’s a problem: authorities feared that this fouling posed a threat to the local marine ecosystem. Indeed, this “biofouling” is considered “one of the main vectors of biological invasion”, according to the International Maritime Organization. “It is recognized that the introduction of invasive aquatic species into new environments through ships represents a great threat to the oceans and the preservation of biodiversity, also notes this UN institution. Many aquatic species present in ballast water or on the hull of ships can survive the voyage and then reproduce in the host environment. »

“Frustration and Anger”

The Swiss cruise company Viking has therefore decided to have the ship set sail for Australia, so that its hull can be cleaned there. Yes, but… The Australian authorities also refused to dock the Viking Orion for the same reasons, explains the British daily The Guardian.

As a result, the ship was stranded, unable to land. Like everyone on board. “Frustration and anger are growing among the passengers,” said one of them, a certain Kenn Heydrick, in remarks reported by the BBC, the British broadcaster, on Monday.

The Australian maritime authorities then indicated, Sunday January 1, that divers had been hired to clean the hull of the Viking Orion before it could sail in the territorial waters of the island-continent. This was done since, on Monday, the boat was in the port of Melbourne, where it had docked, again according to Vessel Finder data.

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