For more than a decade, the tall ship operator has based a 170-passenger clipper ship in Thailand for a winter season but has announced that this winter will be the last until the piracy situation improves. Instead of returning as originally scheduled to Asia in the autumn of 2010, Star Clipper will head west across the Atlantic for a Caribbean season operating out of St. Maarten, an island easily accessible by air from both the U.S. and Europe.
Mikael Krafft, owner and president of Star Clippers, commented in a press statement: "Ensuring the safety and security of our guests and crew is our highest priority, and that is what we have considered in taking this difficult decision.
"Due to the rise of piracy in the Strait of Malacca, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, and the increasing boldness of the pirates, we believe it is not prudent to transit those areas between our cruising grounds in the Mediterranean and the Far East. The future stability of the region is too unpredictable at this time."
Although serious precautions have been taken in the past for Star Clipper's Indian Ocean crossings, the vessel could be particularly vulnerable to attack, as a relatively slow-moving, exotic-looking square rigger. Sailing vessels, albeit much smaller ones, have proven a target for pirates in recent months; British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler are still being held in Somalia after their yacht was hijacked by pirates in October last year.
Star Clippers' move is almost a case of cruise line history repeating itself. Seabourn cancelled its entire 2010/11 Africa and Indian Ocean season last October and is putting a ship in the Caribbean instead. 2009 also saw MSC Cruises, Fred. Olsen and Hapag-Lloyd make itinerary changes to avoid the threat of pirate attacks.
Star Clipper's spring 2010 repositioning voyage from Phuket to Athens will now operate in two legs, one from Phuket to Goa and a second from Safaga, Egypt to Athens, the ship transiting the danger zone of the Gulf of Aden without passengers.
Once in the Caribbean, Star Clipper will sail alternating week-long itineraries that include calls at some of the smaller ports in the region favoured by sailors. Among them are Nevis, Dominica, Iles des Saintes, English Harbour in Antigua, St. Barts, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.
A bonus for sailing fans and Star Clippers regulars is that sister ship Royal Clipper will also be in the Caribbean, sailing out of Barbados -- and Krafft is planning to have the two ships rendezvous off the coast of Dominica on a regular basis for a spot of tall ship racing.
But the intention, he said, is to resume the popular Thailand itineraries in the future. "It is our sincere hope that the piracy situation can be alleviated, and when that happens, we plan to return to Thailand and Malaysia," he commented.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor