The relationship between cruise lines and the Caribbean islands that they serve has always been symbiotic; one depends very much on the other for survival and growth. It has always been the same.
Within those parameters, there are times when disagreements surface; where one party will accuse the other of playing ‘fast and loose’ over relatively minor things such as docking rights, or shore excursion guides. It’s an inevitable part of the interplay between two closely allied operators.
Yet when Hurricane Irma cut a deathly swathe through the Caribbean in September, many cruise lines rallied after that initial, stunning impact to help out as and where they could. And, while both Carnival and Royal Caribbean International deserve great kudos for the work that they also did, this is the story of the role played by one ship from Norwegian Cruise Line- the 77,000 ton Norwegian Sky.
Built in 1999, the Norwegian Sky typically sails on short, fun filled three and four day jaunts from Miami to the Bahamas and Cuba. She’s a sunny, sassy, fun filled ship; fourteen decks of elegant, colourful hedonism whose sole purpose is to provide a fun filled short vacation to around four thousand travellers each week.
All of that changed dramatically when Irma’s angry fist slammed into St. Thomas, the capital of the US Virgin Islands. Irma caused devastation somewhat akin to the aftermath of a Great War battlefield; huge sections of the island’s infrastructure were simply shredded; power lines sagged and snapped, homes flooded, and supplies of even the most basic, daily needs of everyday life all but evaporated.
Against this backdrop, it was decided almost immediately to send the Norwegian Sky on a rescue and relief mission to St. Thomas. The sheer logistics involved in disembarking passengers, and then swiftly turning the huge ship into what amounted to a floating mercy mission, are difficult to exaggerate.
As the ship raced south from Miami on her vital mission, the two and a half days at sea were used to good effect. On board carpenters amassed quantities of nails, tarpaulins, plywood and hammers to erect temporary shelters for the often emotionally shattered survivors of Irma. On board cleaning and stateroom teams mustered a mass of disinfectants, other cleaning essentials, and fresh loads of clean sheets and towels. Masses of fresh ice- something like one hundred and sixty large bags of the stuff- were made available from the ship’s stores, and prepared for distribution once the vessel made landfall.
It went on; disposable cutlery and plates were gathered and prepared for landing. But what was truly exceptional were the donations made by the crew of the Norwegian Sky herself; no less than fifteen of the thirty five large pallets of supplies landed on the ravaged island were direct contributions from the crew; clothes, toiletries, anything that could provide any kind of respite was given up freely, without hesitation. In all, it was a quite extraordinary effort on every level.
Before departing for her return voyage toMiami, the Norwegian Sky embarked something like a thousand of the most seriously displaced locals, together with their pets, and shepherded them back to the Florida port. When the Norwegian Sky arrived back in her home port on September 15th, the ship was met by Andy Stuart, Norwegian’s UK President and CEO. Amid the emotional scenes- and they were certainly that- Stuart’s pride in the professionalism and sheer compassion shown by the ship’s crew was patently obvious.
That is nothing less than it should be; sequestered at short notice, the Norwegian Sky and her crew had performed an act of selfless, heroic sustenance at a time when it was most needed. If ever there was an instance of a cruise line and it’s staff giving back to the ports and the people that it interacts with, then the rapid deployment of this ship and her crew down south to the worst hit of the islands, this is surely it.
It wasn’t simply a question of delivering badly needed supplies and humanitarian succour; for the survivors of that hideous banshee called Irma, just the sheer sight of the arriving Norwegian Sky must have been a tremendous psychological boost, and right when they needed it most. A sign from over the horizon at they had not been forgotten or abandoned; they were not alone.
Of course, I wasn’t there. And I thank God that I wasn’t. But the crew of Norwegian Sky were there, in record time, and right when they were needed most on more than one level.
It’s a fabulous, largely unsung story of selflessness in the aftermath of a savage, relentless act of nature. The story of a ship and a crew that performed way above their normal game, acting as a single unit to take help and hope to a spot where it had never, ever been so urgently needed.