The boutique cultural expedition cruise line Swan Hellenic has several cruise itineraries planned for Cape Town in South Africa and ports on the east and west coasts of Africa for 2023.
In an interview with Seatrade Cruise News, however, the CEO of the company has revealed some of the challenges associated with operating West African itineraries.
Andrea Zito explained that the size of the cruise line’s ships, the threat of piracy, and the geography of the West African coast, all combine to present a unique challenge when it comes to itinerary planning.
Zito said the situation in some coastal areas in West Africa was “fragile” following the economic and political disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting the cruise lines options when repositioning between the Artic, Mediterranean, and Antarctica, its three primary cruising destinations.
“Pirates are very challenging for small ships like ours,” he said. “For the safety of people onboard we will have armed guards close to Somalia and close to the Gulf of Guinea, near Nigeria.”
Africa’s west coast is also “challenging” owing to swells that prevent safe shore landings, he added. “We cannot land on the beach because there can be two metres of swell. You need to find the mouth of rivers or lagoons where you can enter safely,” he explained.
Swan Hellenic will be operating several cruises in West Africa and other coastal regions of the continent in the coming year.
Swan Hellenic Vega will start her cruise season for 2023 in the Arctic before setting course for Antarctica. At the end of the Antarctica season, the expedition ship will move to Cape Town. Zito told Seatrade that this itinerary will be particularly challenging from an onboard activities perspective as it will entail long stretches of days at sea.
“This is quite a challenging cruise as unfortunately it has a lot of days at sea,” he said. “The ship is comfortable and offers plenty of space, but it is 120 metres long so we can’t offer 20 restaurants and Broadway shows. The entertainment is our lectures … our expedition team and the wonders of our planet.”
A special programme for those sea days will be announced soon, but the destinations on the itinerary make the days at sea worthwhile. Vega will depart Cape Town and sail along the Skeleton Coast to Walvis Bay, Namibia before venturing to less frequented spots.
“We have been scouting [destinations] extensively for the last year,” said Zito. “There are areas where nobody goes, for instance, a 1,000km stretch between Congo and Gabon where there are natural parks that are difficult to access.”
“There is the Loango National Park [in Gabon] where there are elephants running on the beach and hippopotamus; we can go there in safety because we have found two or three places where the ship can safely land with Zodiacs,” he explained.
Togo and Benin are next, before the ship visits the British Atlantic islands followed by a season in the Arctic.
Swan Hellenic’s upcoming newbuild Diana will be the largest ship in the fleet and will offer 5-star accommodation for 192 guests in 96 spacious staterooms and suites, the vast majority with large balconies.
She will spend her inaugural season in 2023 in the Eastern Mediterranean from February. In the summer, she’ll sail the Arctic and then offer cruises to Africa’s Algeria, where ancient Roman archaeological sites can be seen.
In the winter in 2023, Diana will reposition to the Red Sea, where Zito touted “probably the best coral in the world in terms of their colour”, before cruising to Port Victoria, Seychelles and the remote Indian Ocean Island of Aldabra, where the largest colony of giant tortoises on Earth can be found.
From there, Diana will cruise to Kenya and the old Arabic city Lamu, off its coast, that is home to unique architecture, as well as Zanzibar in Tanzania. She’ll then cruise to Madagascar, South Africa and Mozambique on her way back to Antarctica for the summer season.
In Maputo, Richard’s Bay and Durban, overnight stays will be included, allowing passengers to join evening excursions in their national parks.
The 2023 itineraries for SH Vega, and the under-construction SH Diana will go on sale by the end of the month, while 2024 bookings are to open in early September.