Fires Near Athens Impact Cruises

August 26, 2007

The raging fires currently blistering parts of Greece near Athens, tragically believed to be caused by arsonists, are definitely impacting cruise calls. As we reported yesterday, the ancient archeological site of Olympia, which is close to the port of Katakolon, is under particular threat.

Reports Maria Jose, destination manager on Oceania's Nautica, which had been scheduled to dock at Katakolon, "We made it there yesterday, but we could not run the tours as the fire was, at that time, 3.5 kilometers [2 miles] away from Olympia, and they were already trying to save the site.

"It is very sad," she adds. "We could smell the smoke from the distance, and as we approached the dock we could see that Katakolon and the surrounding area was foggy from the smoke -- but it was okay in the town. We could see that the inhabitants were worried. Some of them did not sleep during the night as the fire was spreading so fast that they were afraid for their lives even if at the time it was at a certain distance."

Indeed, it has now been confirmed that Olympia's ruins and its new museum have been saved from destruction. Fires Saturday crept to within two miles of the historic birthplace of the Olympics, where ruins date back to 776 B.C.

Costa has reconfigured itineraries so as to avoid fire-plagued areas in Greece. According to Seatrade Insider, Costa Serena, currently on a seven-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise, will head to Mykonos tomorrow instead of Katakolon. And Costa Mediterranea will swap Corfu for Katakolon on Wednesday.

Carnival Freedom, which does call at Katakolon on some itineraries, is not slated to return to Greece until its next cruise. A spokesman tells us that the line will wait to make a decision.

Joyce Gleeson-Adamidis, Cruise Critic's Athens-based contributor, tells us that "the fire situation is extremely bad, as all of Greece is on alert. Tours for Olympia are temporarily on hold until it can be contained. The building office next to the site is on fire, and homes in the area have been burned. Until they feel safe that the fire will not restart or until they get the roads cleared, tour operators will take passengers to another site."

She adds that "ports are still open, and air over Athens is slowly clearing, but no one knows when the next one will be set. Everyone is on edge."

Joyce tells us that fires seem randomly located and are burning in a variety of areas, mostly in the southwest of the region of Peloponnese. Tour availability to Olympia and other places -- The Temple of Apollo, near the port of Delphi, is also too close to flames for comfort -- could be highly unpredictable. "Until officials feel safe that fires won't re-start -- or that roads are clear enough for safe passage -- plans could change."

The sporadic fires, which are so intense they can be seen from space and number 30 or more spread out in areas near Athens, have killed over 60 people.

We'll keep you posted.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor