Its fair to say the Cruise Ship Industry isn’t very popular at the moment. Cruise Ships that regularly service the East Coast of Australia and Pacific Ocean, spend most of their time underway and full of passengers. The only time they stop is for refueling, restocking, passenger embarking or disembarking and crew changes. Usually this all occurs at the same time with military precision. As part of Australia’s COVID-19 mitigation, once Cruise Ships had offloaded their passengers they were no longer allowed to remain docked at ports around Australia. There was simply no room for them. As a result they were left drifting around off the coast of our major Capital Cities with skeleton staff on board.
The Queen Elizabeth was anchored 25NM off Gladstone at Fairway buoy off and on for approximately 2 weeks. This ship has never been able to dock in Gladstone anyway due to its impressive size, but it was easily distinguishable from the Coal Ships when viewed from Boyne or Tannum Beaches. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the best while it was here and we were unable to take our boat out to capture it. Then news came in that more Cruise Ships were on their way to anchor off Gladstone. At least 5 more had began their voyage up to Gladstone when new Government decisions came in instructing all Cruise Ships to leave Australian waters all together. The Queen Elizabeth left Fairway Buoy, returning to Brisbane to refuel and restock prior to departing for an International destination.
We thought we’d lost the opportunity to capture this unique event until two Carnival Cruise ships decided to use Fairway Buoy off Gladstone as their place to refuel and restock before their big journey. The Carnival Spirit and the Carnival Splendor are both previous visitors to the Gladstone region (pre COVID-19). Luckily for us this very small 12hr window where both ships would be anchored up, aligned with an equally small gap in the weather and a plan was made to head out in our boat.
No, we didn’t fly our drone 25NM out to Fairway Buoy from the mainland (Yes, we were actually asked that).
The first thing boaties notice as you head offshore is how quickly the water colour turns blue as the depth increases. Because its been so windy lately, the water around the harbour is quite murky. As we passed Facing Island heading out towards Fair Buoy the water soon turned crystal clear. The two cruise ships parked right next to each other were our obvious destination, growing bigger and bigger as we neared their location. Once close enough we launched the drone noting that the Carnival Spirit was receiving supplies on the port side and a Bunker Vessel was refuelling on starboard side, so extra vessels were in the area. The Ships looked magnificent on the flat blue ocean.
When travelling around the stern of the Carnival Splendor we noticed life boats (tenders) were being deployed. Surely this some sort of planned exercise?? We watched as three boats entered the water and began a short trip over to the Carnival Spirit. Assuming that the ‘Spirit’ merely had a better lunch menu that day, we packed up and headed off fishing. Little did we know we had captured a rare and significant event.
After a wet and windy return trip that afternoon, we posted one of the pics (below) which received a lot of attention. It was shared more than 135 times in a couple of days reaching over 36k people. Many of these shares were from crew members on board the vessels who provided us with more info.
Due to global travel restrictions Carnival was going to use both unused Cruise Ships to help get the crew members home. At the time, this had never happened before. Crews from each ship were split up, with some groups required to swap vessels to allow a better chance of getting them closer to their personal destinations. This was the rare ship to ship crew transfer we had captured. The Splendor took the Indonesian crew members as it was heading for Bali / Jakarta and the Spirit took the rest as it was heading to Manila, Philippines which had a better chance of finding flights home for crew members. Both ships left Australian waters within hours of our visit and who knows if or when we’ll see them again.
We also grabbed some video which we will compile at some stage.
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