April 8, 2004 – St. Thomas lost untold thousands of dollars, and America lost face in the eyes of a relatively small but articulate group of British travelers last Jan. 27, the day the Princess Cruise Lines vessel Oceana sailed into the Charlotte Amalie harbor.
Ripples from the ship's brief and ill-fated visit are still being felt. The Oceana was ordered out of the harbor by the U.S. Coast Guard because it did not have its requisite paperwork in order.
The 2,250-passenger capacity ship had entered the harbor without having given notice of arrival to the National Vessel Movement Center. "It's the same as a no-fly list airlines use to check names on their manifests," St. Thomas-based Coast Guard Lt. John Reinert explained at the time.
Oceana passenger Frank Vincent wrote the Source in February expressing his dissatisfaction with the experience, and seeking an answer from P&O Cruises, the British parent company of Princess Cruise Lines, or from the U. S. Coast Guard, about who was at fault.
(To access Vincent's letter, and five others from passengers who were aboard the ship at the time of the incident, type "Oceana" into the search engine of the "Open Forum" section of St. Thomas Source.)
Vincent received a letter dated March 29 from P&O's passenger relations department stating that, "despite reports you have read, Oceana had not previously received any warning" about entering Charlotte Amalie without the paperwork. The Coast Guard refutes that statement.
"When a ship arrives in U.S. waters, depending on where it comes from, a 95-hour notice of arrival with passenger and crew names is required," Reinert had said. "This particular vessel failed to do this, and it is not the first time for it, so it has received a letter of warning prior to this. This is the second time."
Reinert said his commanding officer, San Juan Port Capt. William Uberti, instructed him to order the ship out of the harbor.
On Thursday Reinert said the Oceana, sailing from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had entered the San Juan harbor April 7, 2003 without proper notice of arrival. It was given a warning notice at that time, he said.
"The ship came here in December with the proper paperwork, which showed they knew how to do it, and they knew that it had to be done," Reinert added.
Several of the Oceana passengers wrote to the Source expressing their frustration about being prevented from spending their money on St. Thomas, a sentiment shopkeepers and Edward E. Thomas Sr., The West Indian Co. president, shared. (See "Cruise ship ordered out of harbor".)
Some of the British passengers took great offense concerning their American reception in the Virgin Islands:
"What totally disgusting behavior this was on the part of your government and agents," Peter Munro of Congleton, England, wrote. "The anti-U.S. feeling this generated on the ship was intense. We were disgusted by the lot of you and will avoid all holidays which involve contact with the U.S. You were so very rude to subjects from one of your best allies. Clearly we must choose our friends better in the future and leave you to fight your own wars … I understand the island of Antigua had a day of trade never before experienced when the Oceana has been in port. May P & O continue to boycott your silly little island — there are many better in the Caribbean."
Munro added that the cruise passengers consisted mostly of "later middle-age and elderly Brits — more a threat to themselves than to the might of the remaining superpower, paranoid to the extreme though it is."
Such strong feelings notwithstanding, there may be a happy ending, if not for those particular passenger, then for future British tourists bound for the Caribbean.
The Coast Guard's Uberti told the Source on Thursday that he met with P&O's director of fleet services, John Marden, two weeks ago at the annual Seatrade Convention in Miami Beach. "He told me they had found the mistake and corrected it," Uberti said. "He said he is sorry it happened and that he looks forward to working with us. He said everything was fine now."
Uberti added: "I explained to him that with the new homeland security regulations, it's very important [to do the paperwork], especially after they had been warned once before."
Cmdr. Elmer Emeric of the Coast Guard's San Juan office suggested that perhaps it is just a loop in the ship's communications process that needs to be closed. "It could be a miscommunication between the purser or the ship's agent," he said. "But the end result was that they didn't get the work done."
Reinert said the case has been forwarded to a hearing officer to determine what fine, if any, will be levied against the cruise line and that he does not know when a decision might be reached.
A story with a decidedly British slant on the affair ran in the Southampton Daily Echo the day after the incident.
The Oceana is not scheduled to return to St. Thomas in the near future. It's to sail from Barbados on April 23 on a 14-day trans-Atlantic cruise homebound to Southampton, England, after which it will spend the summer cruising in the Canary Islands and the Baltic Sea far away from the U.S. Coast Guard.
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