Cruise ships along the east coast of Australia are being forced to divert away from Cyclone Oma’s destructive path and delay their returns as strong winds and swells continue to batter the sea off the coast of Queensland.
Severe weather warnings were issued across the state this week as gale force winds and hazardous boating conditions continued to gain strength, with the storm raised to a Category 2 over the last 24 hours.
While it has been lowered to a Category 1 in Brisbane and on shore across Queensland now, weather remains wild at sea with ships urgently changing their routes to avoid the weather system – which is currently twice the diameter of Cyclone Debbie, a Category 3/4 system in 2017.
Now cruise ship passengers have been forced to remain onboard as several ships delayed their returns, while one has even been cancelled altogether to ensure safety remains a top priority.
P&O’s Pacific Dawn was due to dock in Brisbane this weekend, but the return has now been delayed until Tuesday to allow the weather system to weaken.
Corporate Communication Manager for Carnival Australia, David Jones, told Starts at 60: “Pacific Dawn has had a delayed return to Brisbane so she can stay well away from this weather system. Today Pacific Dawn is in Noumea in very fair, sunny weather, and the guests onboard are enjoying their visit … Clearly the port operations in Brisbane have been significantly affected by this weather system.”
He added: “Generally, safety is of course the paramount consideration in all the decision making in relation to cruise operations to or from Queensland. We’re the largest cruise company in Australia, representing seven cruise brands … What we have been doing across those brands is to make necessary itinerary changes or changes to navigational courses to stay well clear of this weather system.
“It’s pleasing to see that Cyclone Oma has been downgraded to a Category 1 weather system and the cyclone watch has been taken off Brisbane, however conditions off shore remain challenging so we are making timely and orderly decisions in relation to our cruise operations. These decisions are being made by people who have extensive maritime experience.”
The next Pacific Dawn cruise, which was due to set off on Saturday from Brisbane, has however been cancelled, with guests being offered a full refund for the trip plus $100 future cruise credit.
“Our guests have been very understanding in learning that disappointing news,” Jones added.
Elsewhere, P&O’s Pacific Explorer – which was due to go from Sydney to Moreton Island on Thursday – instead got diverted and went south to NSW Sapphire Coast, centred on Eden, while Carnival Spirit, operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, was due to take the same route on Saturday, but will now go south to Phillip Island in Victoria.
Princess Cruises’ Sea Princess, based in Brisbane, has remained in Cairns and will make a delayed return when it’s safe, while Sun Princess, which was due to leave Sydney on Saturday on a QLD coastal itinerary, is now under review.
“Safety being paramount, we don’t go anywhere near the weather system,” Jones added.
P&O cruises released a statement on their Facebook page, saying: “The safety and comfort of our guests is of course the highest priority. We are making changes to cruises and cruise itineraries with this commitment uppermost in mind.”
#CycloneOma has weakened overnight to cat 1 strength & expected to move to the south-southwest during the next 24-36 hrs. Oma may intensity later today to cat 2—expected remain well off the southeast Qld coast. Several warnings are in place:https://t.co/75atzvknLZ #TCOma pic.twitter.com/FrH1OPnWkI
— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@BOM_au) February 21, 2019
According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland, the cyclone began to weaken overnight and is now expected to move to the south-southwest during the next 24-36 hours.
While it may intensify throughout Friday, it’s hoped it will then weaken again – and remain largely out at sea.
🌊 Maximum wave heights greater than those in #CycloneOswald have been recorded off Point Lookout this morning! 💨 113km/h wind gusts have also been observed at #CapeMoreton. ⚠️ Latest #QldSevereWeather Warning for #SEQ can be found at https://t.co/bHm15ZXLmL. pic.twitter.com/xOEE3NzzPF
— Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland (@BOM_Qld) February 22, 2019
Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island recorded maximum waves greater than any of those seen in Cyclone Oswald with 113km/h winds at Cape Moreton.
In a statement online, the Bureau of Meteorology said: “Abnormally high tides and dangerous surf conditions are expected along the southern Queensland coast over the next few days and into early next week. Seas and swell are already increasing well ahead of the approach of Oma with dangerous surf about the east coast extending from far northern New South Wales northwards to Seventeen Seventy, just north of Bundaberg. Beach erosion is likely to continue with the hazardous marine conditions.
“A Severe Weather Warning for Damaging Winds, Abnormally High Tides and Dangerous Surf is current. A Hazardous Surf Warning is also current.
— Surf Life Saving QLD (@lifesavingqld) February 22, 2019
“Gale force winds, with gusts greater than 90km/hr, are expected to develop along exposed coastal areas of southern Queensland during Friday well ahead of Oma. Gale force winds are also possible about elevated terrain near the New South Wales border during Friday. Gales may extend into coastal parts of far northern New South Wales on Saturday.”
Indeed, Surf Life Saving QLD was forced to rescue 43 surfers on Thursday due to the dangerous conditions and they have since warned surfers to avoid the water altogether.