Cruise Lifestyle

Cruise Lifestyle: A guide to cyclone season cruising

As South Africa looks ahead to the coming cruise season, Cruise Arabia & Africa thought it worthwhile to consider the facts and figures involved in cruising during the cyclone season.


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For the South-West Indian Ocean, the cyclone season typically runs from the beginning of July to the end of May. As Murphy’s Law would have it, this is also the prime months of the South African cruise season, which will typically begins in October and ends in March.

The South African cruise market is dominated by MSC Cruises, which runs roundtrip cruises from Durban on the east coast of South Africa up the Mozambique Channel to a handful of destinations on the coast of the eponymous country.

The image below shows all the tropical storms and cyclones that were tracked during the 2013-14 season, and although many of them occurred far out to sea between the coasts of South Africa and Australia, there is a high concentration of weather systems that occurred in the Mozambican Channel – the very waters in which South Africans go cruising.


All the ‘named’ cyclone storms systems tracked during the 2013-14 cruise season. Note the concentration in the Mozambique Channel.

For the past several decades, however, the South African cruise season has always coincided with the region’s cyclone season. While moderate to severe tropical storms have led to exciting video footage being uploaded to YouTube on more than one occasion, severe weather in the Indian Ocean has not led to the sinking of a ship since the Oceanos went down in 1991 between East London and Durban.

Remember the venerable old MSC Melody? Here she is battering her way through a classic South African cold front depression in the Mozambique Channel.

Achille Lauro, which sank off the coast of Somalia while en-route to her Durban cruise season in 1994, foundered due to an explosion in the engine room, which caused a severe fire. So, the history of the South African cruise industry speaks for itself, the modern cruise sector is extremely safe and the only real danger during cyclone season is that your cruise might be delayed, or one of your ports of call might be cancelled.


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Cruise Arabia & Africa has the privilege of meeting countless fellow cruise passengers every year, however, and the same questions regarding cyclones and cruising often come up, so we thought we’d set the record straight on cruising during the cyclone season.

Can a cruise ship run from a cyclone?

Generally speaking, yes. A modern cruise ship can reach at least 22-knots when her captain really stretches her legs.

Your average cyclone on the other hand, travels at around 8-knots (10-knots if she’s a runner). So the chances of getting ‘caught’ in a cyclone in the Indian Ocean are rare, especially as cruise ships during the South African cruise season navigate up and down the coasts of South Africa and Mozambique, with just one or two runs across open ocean to Mauritius.

In addition, cruise ships have extremely sophisticated weather tracking systems and major cruise lines like MSC Cruises work with leading weather forecasters to keep their vessels out of harms way. Because of this, the chances of a dangerous weather system cutting your cruise ship off in the channel are rare.

Can the seas be rougher during the cyclone season, even if there isn’t a storm?

South African cruise passengers have often remarked that, although the sky is clear and there is only a mild wind blowing, the seas seem to be running with a larger swell than one would expect in such conditions.

In fact, it is one of our little joys in life to feel the bows lift to the swell leaving Durban Harbour. It marks the beginning of a cruise, the start of an adventure. There is a reason for that powerful, long ocean swell, however.


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So, in answer to that question, yes, the seas of the South-West Indian Ocean can be rougher during cyclone season, even if there is no cyclone or tropical storm in the vicinity, because a cyclone hundreds of nautical miles away can still make its presence known.

Can passengers be compensated for missed port calls?

No. As many an experiences cruise passenger will tell you, it does not matter how long you argue your case at the Guest Relations desk, you will not get a refund just because you didn’t get to step ashore at Portuguese Island.

It is only in exceptional circumstances that a cruise line might offer compensation due to the weather, for instance if a Cyclone Demoina-type event occurred and a cyclone made landfall in South Africa, forcing the cancellation of the cruise altogether.

Editor’s note: Cyclone Demoina was in fact only a tropical storm, but she made landfall during the peak of her strength, devastating parts of Mozambique, including the capital, Maputo.

She then moved inland and south, causing extreme flooding in Swaziland and Richards Bay. Although the storm was not in fact of cyclone strength, she is commonly referred to, in the media and by the public, as Cyclone Demoina.

Categories: Cruise Lifestyle

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