Update, Feb. 15, 2017 (5:30 a.m. AEST) -- According to a statement from Norwegian Cruise Line, repairs have been completed, and Norwegian Star left Melbourne at 2 p.m. local time on Feb. 14. The ship is sailing directly to Auckland and is expected to arrive Feb. 18. Passengers booked on the Feb. 18 sailing will be contacted within the next 48 hours with confirmation of embarkation times.
(February 12, 11:25 a.m. AEST) -- The 2,240-passenger Norwegian Star broke down off the coast of Australia on Friday and has been towed back to Station Pier at the Port of Melbourne for urgent repairs to its propulsion system. According to a letter distributed to passengers today, the ship is anticipated to be cleared to sail on Tuesday (February 14) to begin the crossing to Auckland, New Zealand, where the current itinerary ends.
"We will continue to provide you updates as we know more about the ship's repair timeline," hotel director Emannouil Kapanakis wrote in the letter.
It is believed the ship's second azipod failed last week after continuing issues with its other azipod, which started three weeks ago, causing the 16 year old vessel to sail at very slow speeds from Asia to Australia. Several itineraries have been affected, with multiple ports skipped to make up for lost time.
In the latest incident, passengers told Cruise Critic Friday the ship had been "dead in the water" since around 3 a.m. An Australian passenger, Katrina B, said they are expected to stay in Melbourne for up to five days before cruising to Auckland, the last scheduled port of call. All other New Zealand ports will be missed, she said, although this has not yet been confirmed to Cruise Critic by the ship's operator, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).
"The second azipod has now also failed and we are drifting at sea. Waiting for tug boats to take us back to Melbourne. Hoping to get towed back to Melbourne by Saturday," Katrina B said from the ship. "Either way, it's turning out to be a 12-night cruise starting in Sydney, ending in Auckland, with one port: Melbourne."
The missed ports are likely to include Dunedin, Akaroa, Wellington, Napier and Tauranga, as well as scenic cruising through the fjords of Milford Sound. Thursday's call to Burnie, Tasmania, was also cancelled before the cruise began in anticipation of the ship's maneuverability and propulsion problems.
Norwegian confirmed in a statement yesterday: "During the early morning hours, Norwegian Star’s azipod propulsion system experienced a technical malfunction and the ship is currently without propulsion approximately 20 miles offshore near Melbourne, Australia. The ship has full power and all onboard services are fully operational. All guest amenities remain open and available and the weather conditions are favorable. The ship is in no danger whatsoever and the comfort and safety of our guests and crew are unaffected by this situation."
The company said that changes to the current cruise, which departed on February 6 from Sydney, will be confirmed "once the ship arrives alongside and a technical team has assessed the repair timeline". Now that the ship is in Melbourne, with an assessment underway by a technical team, a company spokeswoman expects an update within 48 hours.
Passengers are able to remain onboard while the ship is docked "and enjoy additional time exploring Melbourne", NCL said. When repairs are completed the ship will continue to Auckland on the revised itinerary. The next cruise, scheduled to depart Auckland on February 18, is expected to depart as originally scheduled, the line said. Some ports will be missed or rescheduled, as previously reported.
The propulsion issues started in the port-side azipod halfway through a 33-night Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand cruise that departed Hong Kong on January 16. The ship, which is carrying travellers largely from Australia, the U.S and the U.K, suffered a separate mechanical issue in December 2016 that affected its starboard-side azipod and forced the cruise line to alter itineraries. At the time, NCL said it had fixed the starboard-side azipod and emphasised that the other azipod problem was unrelated. Norwegian Star also altered itineraries in October 2015 because of an azipod problem.
NCL has apologised for the inconveniences encountered by passengers. "All guests onboard were provided a full refund, as well as a 50 percent future cruise credit. We thank our guests for their understanding and patience in this very unusual and unprecedented situation. While very rare, mechanical equipment malfunctions do occur and we assure our guests that our dedicated team on board is working tirelessly to deliver the absolute very best guest experience possible during this adjusted cruise."
A letter to passengers signed by Captain Mattiass Andersson and Andy Stuart, NCL president and CEO, stated that those who prefer to disembark in Melbourne tomorrow will receive a credit of $350 per person for a flight to Auckland and up to $300 per ticket for a change fee allowance if they decide to fly home immediately. Free internet access and phonecalls will also be provided for passengers to contact their travel agents to make alternative travel arrangements, said the letter, which was passed on to Cruise Critic today.
It's unfortunate timing for the cruise line, which had hyped up its first visit to Australia in 13 years. The company recently expanded its team in the new Sydney office and plans to send Norwegian Jewel down under for next summer's season. Further updates about Norwegian Star's itinerary changes will be provided over the weekend, as soon as available.
--By Louise Goldsbury, Australia Editor
Photo: Darren Knabel