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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

What next for the cruise industry?

It has been a blood bath, out there.

At the moment, according to the very useful CruiseWatch site, the cruise ships we knew and loved are stranded, either at sea with nowhere to go, or stuck in port. Le Laperouse, for instance, which was lying forlornly at anchor off Motutapu Island in Auckland Harbour, is now lying at anchor in Noumea, New Caledonia.  Forlornly?  Perhaps.  Noumea was supposed to be part of a Coral Sea cruise, now cancelled.  But at least the people on shore speak French.

It is hard to find a place to anchor safely.  After the Ruby Princess debacle, where passengers were allowed to disembark untested, Australia established a 30-day ban on international cruise ship arrivals, and New Zealand announced a prohibition on cruise ships from entering its territory for more than three months.  Now, in an attempt to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, there are no cruises anywhere, at all.

It is frustrating and sad for the passsengers, but at least they are getting their money back, or a credit for a future cruise -- as you can see in this chart.  But do spare a thought for the crews.  Their diminishing pay is almost a big a worry as the diminishing stock of food.  According to a story in Stuff NZ,  fried fish heads are a staple for lunch. 

According to CDC -- the US center for disease control and prevention -- nearly 80,000 crew members are stuck on about 100 cruise ships that languish in or near US ports.  Unlike Le Laperouse, these ships are not able to start up the engines and head for other climes -- last Thursday the CDC issued a no-sail order for up to 100 days.  For the trapped sailors, it is a three-month cruise going nowhere.

In other parts of the world, the captains have been allowed to sail to strange and unusual ports, in an effort to repatriate crew members who can't get home because the planes are not flying.  Infuriatingly, some of these ports have refused to let the men and women land, trapping them even further.  As a Carnival spokesman wryly commented, fear and panic have taken over from human decency.  

But there are uplifting tales, too, of the outstanding camaraderie that has bonded these stranded sailors together.  Captains have been caring and kind.  Entertainers have turned to entertaining their shipmates.  And the meals produced by resourceful cooks are eaten in the dining rooms, where passengers were plied with gourmet food.  And, where passengers sat in convivial groups, the sailors are spaced well apart.

But the worry is greater than the problems of getting off the ship.  Many of these seafarers are supporting extended families.  They are employed on contract, which finishes when they get home.  Normally, another contract would be signed and commenced within a few weeks.  

But these are not normal times.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Wahine wrecking, anniversary.

Fifty-two years ago today, the interisland ferry Wahine sank in Wellington harbour. And fifty-two people died, one several weeks later, from injuries sustained in the wreck.

The sad story had its genesis several days earlier, when a tropical storm formed to the far north of New Zealand.  It was expected to head east, and the Chatham Islands were braced for it.  Instead, it veered, heading for the centre and south of the North Island.  By this time it had a name -- hurricane Giselle.

We were living on the east coast at the time, and our son was a small baby.  My mother-in-law, a nervous Londoner who had never experienced a hurricane before, had come to stay with us.  It was a visit she would never forget.

During the day of April 9, the winds and rain were terrific.  The sound was like an express train, roaring down endlessly upon us.  By nighttime, all four of us were hunkered down in one bedroom, frightened and deafened.  Then, abruptly, about midnight, there was silence.  The eye of the storm was directly above us.  The rain and wind had completely stopped.  We went outside, and in a hole in the sky, right overhead, we could see stars.  Then the wind roared again -- from the other direction.  The hurricane was whirling past us, on the way to Wellington.

At the same time a deep depression was moving north from the South Island, after drenching the citizens of Christchurch.  The two storms clashed in the early morning of April 10, at exactly the same moment that T.E.V. Wahine was entering the Wellington heads. On board were 610 passengers and a crew of 125.  None of the passengers or crew expected a difficult crossing.  The word was that the cyclone was still too far distant to be a problem. There was only a slight breeze, and the weather did not seem bad or the sea rough.

The storm struck with massive force -- with a gust of over 150 km, which sent the ship lurching to port. Then, when she recovered, the helm would not respond.  The sea was so turbulent that the propellers were often out of the water.  The ship's radar failed and visibility deteriorated quickly to zero.  Then, with a shudder, the ship hit Barretts Reef. 

Most of the passengers did not even notice the strange thump as the Wahine crashed.  On the bridge, however, urgency took over.  Alarm bells were rung, and a loudspeaker announcement was called that the ship was aground.  All passengers were requested to return to their cabins, collect life-jackets, and go to their allotted muster stations.  It was like the emergency drill that starts every cruise ship voyage, but the emergency was real.

Anchors were dropped, but did not hold.  For two hours they dragged, as the ship was slowly swept into the harbor.  Finally, they held near the beach at Seatoun, and two tugs were sent out into the appalling conditions.  One was forced to turn back, but the Tapuhi managed to get a tow line to the listing ship.  Ten minutes later, however, the line parted, and it was impossible to get another attached.   A harbour board launch arrived, and the deputy harbour master, Captain Galloway, risked his life leaping onto the ship.

And all the time, the ship was leaning over further, as the vehicle deck was flooded with incoming water.  I remember the dismal radio messages that came over the air, while the whole country listened, and waited.  Television was in its infancy in New Zealand, but black and white images flickered as the tragedy unfolded.  

At 1:15 pm, the order to abandon ship was given.

There was chaos.  Confused passengers went to the high side of the ship, where it was impossible to launch the lifeboats.  Others had taken off their life jackets, to use them as pillows.  The first lifeboat to get away was almost immediately swamped. 

Most managed to get to the beach at Seatoun,  while others were blown to Eastbourne.  On both beaches, locals had assembled to haul the boats and rafts through the raging surf, and carry stricken passengers on shore.   Small craft had arrived, in a gallant effort to assist.  Another ferry, Aramoana, stood by to pick up people from rafts. 

At 2:30 pm, with a final groan, the Wahine collapsed into the deep.  The last to leave the ship was Captain Hector Robinson, who dived over the side, into the cold.

Rescue was a nightmare.  Because of the storm and the state of the roads, it was extremely difficult to get vehicles to the beaches where the rafts, lifeboats, and bodies washed up.  Many had drowned.  Others died on the beach, out of reach of medical help. The death roll included 44 passengers, 6 crew, and one stwaway.  Poignantly, the dreadful scene unfolded within plain sight of the city.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Color in Wellington for lockdown kids

I know I have already posted about Mittens, the cat who lives along the street, on the Terrace, and how he rules downtown Wellington.

He has a Wikipedia entry, and his own facebook page, called The Wondrous Adventures of Mittens.

This is because he is a Curious Cat and a natural rover.  He heads up to the university to visit offices and student flats, or else down Ghuznee Street to visit anything from churches to strip clubs.  He usually waits for the green light at crossings, and is very good at using elevators, rather than stairs.  But, because he wanders so far (often two kilometres or more), people kept on thinking he was lost, and handing him in to the SPCA.

So it was SPCA staff who started the facebook page, to inform our citizenry that Mittens is fine.  Just don't feed him, because it is the hunger pangs that send him to his loving home each night.

And the facebook page became a hit, with just about 45K followers and an untold number of views.  Mittens has made headlines in the Guardian and in Belgium and Japan, too.  Unfortunately, he is unaware of this.  Because cats cannot read.

He doesn't even know that he is the first to be pictured in a competition staged by the Wellington City Council, called "Colour in Welly," where a city icon is featured every week.

Download and colour in Wellington's favourite fluffy friend, it says, and provides a handy template. And the council has an album of entries on its site.

So the kids are enjoying themselves, some not even New Zealanders, but as keen on the game as any Kiwi.  Even more fun is that at the same time adults have taken up the challenge -- not to color the template, but to send in pictures of their Favorite Kiwi Cat.

Yan Heere

Emily Valverde

Madison Davy

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

More cruise ship data, more lockdown log

Yet another Princess cruise ship has managed to find a safe haven -- Coral Princess docked in Miami just a couple of days ago.  What a relief -- the ship, with its thousand+ passengers and eight hundred+ crew had been in limbo for days, waiting for permission to dock.

According to the Coast Guard, there are 114 cruise ships in or near United States ports, with 150,000 passengers and crew on board,  You can see their current positions on the Marine Traffic site

The sightings include ferries, and it is interesting to see that so many are still running.  In New Zealand, the only people on board the inter-island ferries are crew and truck drivers, as no passengers are carried, but essential services, such as delivery of freight, continue.  And the fishing fleet is out -- though what they will do with the catch is debatable, no fish markets being open.

Wellington is uncannily quiet -- over the weekend, it was like a ghost town. On the plus side, the weather is beautiful, and it has been a chance to explore the locality.  And I found a bush walk right at the back door.  It runs from the Clifton Terrace stop for the Cable Car (not currently running) and uphill of the motorway, all the way to Aurora Terrace.  It does not have views -- which is unusual in this mountainous city -- but is paved, has benches for tired walkers, and is peacefully bush-clad.

At the Aurora Terrace end, where I turned round and walked back, there was a signpost.  It read, TOKYO LANE.  Why?  Apparently, it used to run to a brothel.  Why Tokyo? Don't ask.

It is musical with birds -- fantails, silver eyes, and bigger ones, too, like the raucous kaka.  When the motorway is busy, there would not be the same birdsong, but the lockdown has been a boon for our feathered friends.  Now, they have become brave, and are venturing where they didn't dare, before.

I do wonder about the pigeons, though -- those strutting, nodding beggars, who live off crusts from office-workers' lunches.  Some years ago, there was a long break spanning Christmas and New Year, and when the cafe opened at Midland Park, a favorite place for outdoor lunching, a friend and I were there.  The doors opened -- and a screaming flock of pigeons descended.  They stormed frantically into the cafe, desperate for food.  I vividly remember one of the staff trying to beat them off with a tray.  It was like that Hitchcock film, "The Birds."  So how are they faring now?

Saturday, April 4, 2020

What has happened to all the cruise ships?

As we all know, the cruise industry has gone through a very stormy time.   So what has happened to the fleets?

Diamond Princess was the first to make headlines in this coronavirus world.  She is still in Yokohama, but all the crew and guests have gone, most repatriated to their countries after a period of isolation.  The ship has taken on a different kind of crew -- workers who are disinfecting the entire vessel, inside and out.

Grand Princess was the next in the news.  The ship is still in San Francisco bay.  The guests have all gone, but the crew remains on board, going through the last of a 14-day quarantine that began on March 21.

All Princess bridge cams are operational, and you can see where the ships are here.

Princess is part of the Carnival group, which on March 19 extended an offer for all ships to be used as auxiliary hospitals.  Here is the actual news release, which was widely reported by the media:

MIAMI, March 19, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Carnival Corporation & plc (NYSE/LSE: CCL;NYSE: CUK), the world's largest leisure travel company, today announced that select cruise ships from the company's global cruise line brands, including Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises Australia, will be made available to communities for use as temporary hospitals to help address the escalating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare systems around the world.
With the continued spread of COVID-19 expected to exert added pressure on land-based healthcare facilities, including a possible shortage of hospital beds, Carnival Corporation and its brands are calling on governments and health authorities to consider using cruise ships as temporary healthcare facilities to treat non-COVID-19 patients, freeing up additional space and expanding capacity in land-based hospitals to treat cases of COVID-19. As part of the offer, interested parties will be asked to cover only the essential costs of the ship's operations while in port.
Governments or health authorities with interest can contact Monica Puello by email at or by phone at (305) 406-8656.
But the offer does not appear to have been taken up.  As Bloomberg commented on March 20, though President Trump liked the idea, because cruise ships "have a lot of rooms," reservations were felt by other officials.  As the finance reporter pointed out, "In 2018, Carnival drew criticism after public records -- obtained by Florida radio station WLRN -- revealed that the federal government paid the company the equivalent of $5,959 per passenger per week for lending a vessel to hurricane relief efforts in the Caribbean, an amount that significantly exceeded what the ship typically charges leisure travelers."  A spokesman for Carnival, Roger Frizzell, said there was no comparison to the 2018 situation, "because the company had to account for lost revenue from taking a ship out of operation, back then."  But apparently doubts still linger.
So, instead, the ships are still in limbo -- either floating about on short, badly patronized voyages, or in port as unwelcome visitors.  In Australia, according to Stuff, the New Zealand news outlet, New South Wales officialdom is trying to get rid of eight ships.  You can see them for yourself on the marine traffic site.

In Auckland, two luxury ships linger.  One, pictured above, is Le Laperouse, one of the Ponant fleet.  It was in Wellington on March 16, when it abruptly discharged all passengers in the middle of a round-New Zealand cruise, somewhat to the mystification and alarm of locals, as well as the cruisers, who were forced to find a quick way home. After that, it returned to Auckland, where it anchored off Motutapu Island, spot where vessels often wait for a berth, and has remained there ever since.
The other ship, lying anchored off the island, too, is MS Bremen, which has also discharged all its guests, and has only its 83 crew members on board.  What happens next belongs to guesswork -- the ship (pictured below) is supposed to be on the way to Russia.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Rip Van Winkle, American panic, and the Lockdown in New Zealand

What must it be like to be a modern Rip Van Winkle, the guy in folklore who went to sleep for a century and woke up to find a different world?

A hiker in New Zealand found out.

The Guardian reports that a British outdoorsman living in New Zealand emerged from the bush to find empty roads, empty huts, over a hundred warning messages left on his inactive phone, and a country in total lockdown.


The remote and rugged Routeburn track in New Zealand’s South Island is one of the world’s most famous and popular walks, with a years-long wait to secure a booking and visitor quotas permanently full.
So when British hiker James Johnston emerged from the bush after five days solo-tramping on the off-piste Five Passes route, a prickly feeling ran up the back of his spine when he found an abandoned Routeburn shelter.
“There are almost always lots of people there, it’s one of the most popular walks in the country,” said Johnston, 27, who has lived in New Zealand for two years.
“I saw the whole place was deserted, not a single car or person anywhere, which was weird.
“The fact that this incredibly popular spot in a popular month of the year was empty – it was a bit spooky.”
Johnston had entered the bush when there were still only a handful of coronavirus cases in New Zealand, and the newly introduced alert system was at two – “reduce contact”. Solo-tramping on a remote mountain range seemed the ideal way to reduce contact, Johnston thought, and headed off, largely unconcerned.
Over his five days tramping he didn’t see a soul, and his phone had no reception.
The trip, Johnston says, was “special” – tons of birdlife and challenging terrain. But when he descended the Sugarloaf track last Thursday – the first day of nationwide lockdown – he was tired, and ready for some creature comforts.
Finding the Routeburn shelter deserted, Johnston says an “eerie” feeling began creeping over him, as he sat down to eat his lunch and plan the next move. There being no cars around to give him a ride back to Queenstown, some 70km away.

The Routeburn Track in Glenorchy, New Zealand.
 The Routeburn Track in Glenorchy, New Zealand. Photograph: Carey J Williams/AP

Suddenly, three people emerged through the heavy downpour, dressed in high-vis and wearing face masks.  And what followed was definitely surreal.

Lockdown update

Actually, it is the eighth day of lockdown, here.  I am at long last working closer to the bottom of the rice pudding I made to use up milk, and which I nibble away for breakfast.  I was beginning to despair, and I am pretty sure I will never eat rice pudding again.  But I am glad I have made space in the deep freeze, as my supermarket will deliver because of my great age.  I put in a big order, which should arrive this morning.  Hopefully my list covers all bases; it took the whole afternoon, almost, to compile it.  And it includes fruit, potatoes and salad, so I can eat healthily again. 

The weather is lovely, but getting cooler.  It is hard to keep the young ones away from the beach, and it is going to get harder, even though it has been established that the 20-29-year olds are the biggest spreaders.  I go for the daily walk we are all allowed, up past the university (my alma mater), then across the croquet ground, and around the cricket ground to a track that leads back down the hill to the apartment building.  I notice clusters of teenagers on the cricket ground, and assume they are from the same flat or house.  You are allowed to associate with those you live with, outside.  It is hard to tell.  But the government has set up a site where you can report them, if you harbor suspicions.   It crashed within hours, because of the load of traffic, but they set it up again.

I do notice a lot more people out and about, in cars as well as on bikes and on foot.  The urban motorway was creepily silent the first couple of days, but now seems quite busy.  Where are they going?  And why?  It does lead south to the hospital, and also Newtown School, which has been set up as a testing site.

What strange times we live in.  I wonder if it will ever return to normal, and somehow, very depressingly, doubt it.

Night before last, I watched a very strange program on TV, about rednecks who buy disused Cold War bunkers in the Nevada desert, and set up for Armageddon.  Some have been there for years.  They live in these underground concrete tubes, along with provisions and water, and -- of course -- many guns.  They are all heavily muscled and tattooed, and the women have butch hair cuts and the men have ponytails.  Bizarrely, and really quite worryingly, the program came from Russia.  The channel is called "RT."   Is it fake news?  And why is it shown in NZ?  

Still more worrying, I have just turned my digital radio on to the PBS news, and the tone is definitely panicked.

I wonder if James -- aka New Zealand's Rip Van Winkle -- wishes he was back in the bush.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Major magazines to go, lockdown update

Iconic magazines to close down  -- but is it because of the coronavirus?

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern says no, that the company owning the Listener and the Women's Weekly, was offered the booster that other companies are getting -- and turned it down.

Both magazines, however, have been in trouble for a long, long time; I know for a fact that Bauer, the German tycoon who owns the company, was paying writers out of his own pocket to keep them submitting work, until it became untenable.

So the closure of these magazines was probably on the horizon, whatever.  The pandemic either made it easier to make the decision, or it was being made, anyway.

But it is so sad.  I remember that my mother-in-law loved the Women's Weekly, reckoning it was better than anything back in England, because of the domestic hints and recipes.

Which takes me to the lockdown update ...

It involves food.  A lot of food.  No one knows how long it is going to happen, so everyone is stocking up.  Potatoes and bread are hard to come by, and flour impossible.  Why? Because, while the flour mills are working non-stop, the packaging for smaller amounts, the kind you buy in supermarkets, is unavailable.  So, if you want to buy flour, ask for huge quantities, and you might be luckier than most.

A friend phoned me today with news of her latest accomplishment.  She had listed everything in her deep freeze, totaled it up, and reckoned she had forty meals in there.  So what did she do?  She baked utterly new bread, and cooked utterly new vegetable soup for lunch.

Knowing she is a wonderful cook, I do so wish I had been there at the table.

Perhaps you remember my joy when a wonderful gift of mushrooms arrived at our apartment building.  And eggs.  Mushroom omelets galore.  Wonderful.  But once the appetite runs out, what would one do with such a bonanza?

The same friend favored me with a recipe for the stock for amazing mushroom soup.

8 oz mushrooms
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 and one half cups of chicken stock

Wash the mushrooms, put in a pot, add the onion, cover with the chicken stock, and simmer for 30 minutes.

That's it.  The result is rich and smells divine.

It is not the soup, of course, just the base.  I have frozen mine, but of course you can make the soup right away, if you want.  And here is what you need:

2 oz (tablespoons) of butter
3 tablespoons of flour
1 and one half cups of milk
One half cup of cream
1 teaspoon of mixed salt and pepper -- more salt than pepper
2 tablespoons sherry or sweet wine

Heat the butter in a big pot, stir in the flour to make a roux, gradually add the milk, cook until thickened, mix in the cream, but be sure not to let it boil (or it will curdle).  Blend in the mushroom base, and season with salt and pepper.  Add the sherry last.

Believe me, it makes any kind of lockdown sybaritic.

For a little while, anyway.