Libya Changes Passport Rules; Cruise Ships Turned Away

November 14, 2007
Libyan authorities this week refused to let P&O's Artemis make a planned call at Tripoli because of sudden changes made to passport rules -- that weren't communicated to cruise line officials. As a result, port authorities there refused to let the ship dock on Tuesday as scheduled, and then ordered Artemis to leave Libyan waters. The mistimed communication error was confirmed by a P&O spokesperson, who said that "these changes were implemented without warning and had not been previously announced by the Libyan authorities."

The new requirement insists that passengers on ships calling at Tripoli have an Arabic translation of their passports that is stamped by the embassy that issued their required visa.

The 1,122 passengers who were onboard will have their visa costs refunded by P&O as a gesture of goodwill and, naturally, fees for pre-booked cruise line shore excursions were refunded. Artemis replaced the planned port of call with an extra sea day.

Guests onboard MSC Musica Monday were also not allowed to disembark, according to a company spokesperson; the line has not yet determined what to do about future calls.

The new rules -- so fresh that even Libyan tourist authority officials attending the World Travel Show in London didn't know about it -- caught more than P&O and its passengers by surprise. Costa has now dropped Tripoli from itineraries; Costa Classica, due in Tripoli Friday, will instead go to Palermo, and Costa Europa's call on November 22 has been switched to Tunis. Flights into Libya for land holidays were also affected, with air passengers denied boarding if they didn't have the newly required passport translation.

Specifically, the new rules require that travelers wishing to visit Tripoli must provide the translation at the time they apply for their £20 (just over $40 U.S.) tourist visa, not afterwards.

Acquiring this translation isn't the easiest of tasks. Travelers must obtain a passport stamp, which provides the format for this transcript, from the Identity and Passport Service. But U.K. travel authorities cannot provide the Arabic transcript itself. Travelers must obtain this from a translator acceptable to the Libyan People's Bureau in London. The passport containing the stamp and the transcript must then be submitted to the Libyan People's Bureau in London, in order to obtain a visa. Transcripts on a separate piece of paper are not acceptable to the Libyan authorities.

Libya already had a ban on anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport -- so strict that even if one passenger had a stamp and promised not to go ashore, the whole ship would be turned away.

Other lines with calls at Tripoli on the schedule include Holland America, and Fred. Olsen, among others.

Holland America's Amsterdam, Prinsendam and Rotterdam all feature a stop at Tripoli on spring 2008 itineraries so have not had to make a decision quite yet; a company representative says that "we will make revisions as necessary."

In the meantime, for more specific details about the new requirements, check with the U.K.'s Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advisory Web site.

The U.S. State Department's consular affairs bureau does not list the new rule yet on their Web site, but does list other handy requirements for travel to Libya.

Travelers from both the United Kingdom and United States are required to obtain visas before visiting Libya.

--by Steve Read, a London-based Cruise Critic contributor, and Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor.