THE BURNING QUESTION
When Marla and I woke up on Sunday around 9
am, we got dressed and went for breakfast. Unfortunately, the
kitchen had been decimated in the Tilting incident. Breakfast
was chaotic. I took one look at the
long line and decided I wasn't hungry. So I went back to my
As I sat in my room, I was beset with a terrible depression.
Visiting Egypt was the whole point of the trip. Now my
lifelong dream had just been dashed. I was sick with
disappointment that we had missed Egypt. I decided my best bet
was to sit in my bed and read a book. Maybe if I sat still
long enough, my darkness would pass as the day wore on.
I was bitterly angry at the Captain. I held him completely
responsible for ruining my dream. In my mind, I believed that
if we could just get to the other side of the storm, magnificent
Egypt was there waiting for us, blues skies and all. But now that would never
My poor wife came back to the room looking like she had just been chased
by the Headless Horseman. Marla was white as a ghost. I
asked Marla what was wrong. Marla said she had just had
breakfast in the Dining Room with the ten angriest people she had
ever met in her life. Marla said the complaints were so bitter
that she had to excuse herself or be sucked into the same dark mood
as everyone else.
I nodded. I completely understood. We decided our best
chance to avoid feeling any worse than we already did was to simply
hide from the world in our cabin. At least we had each
other. I was reminded of Noah's Rule of
Travel - always travel in pairs. Trust me, neither of us
would have kept our sanity if we had been forced to face this trip alone.
One hour later around 10 am, I heard something on the TV about a
storm. I immediately looked up from my book to
catch the beginning of a video feed on CNN. My eyes grew as
wide as saucers at what I saw. I stared in disbelieving shock.
The CNN images revealed that Egypt was in the grip of a horrible
sandstorm. I saw footage of sand driven by violent winds that
was ripping palm trees to shreds on a street in Cairo. The street
was dark because the sun was blocked out. There were a few
cars, but no one dared to be out in the open. That sand would have
seriously injured any human who was not properly protected.
I shook my head in consternation. Well, I'll be darned.
The hurricane had made it to Egypt as well! Why didn't I
think of that? Being isolated on the ship clearly had me
I could not believe how blind I had been. The storm was headed
southeast. Egypt was southeast from our approach. Why
didn't it occur to me that the same hurricane that had botched
the Captain's attempt to dock in the harbor would continue on into
As I studied the video on the TV, I noticed there was not a single
person out on that sand-swept street. No surprise there.
Who on earth would want to brave those conditions? The violent
winds and swirling sands had turned Egypt into a no man's land!!!
Even if we had miraculously made it to port, what possible good would it have
Unfortunately, I forgot to pack my Arab garb for this
trip and so did Marla. I shuddered to think what would happen
to us. Unless they gave us goggles, we would have had our eyes ripped out by
the sand storm the moment we stepped off the ship.
None of us could have seen the
Pyramids or the Sphinx, much less take our scheduled pleasure excursion down the
I had been
under the illusion that the weather was good in Egypt. Now
that I realized Egypt had just gotten hit by the same hurricane that
had tormented us, my anger towards the Captain completely disappeared.
This was an act of nature. What was the point of being angry
at a huge storm? It was pointless to be angry at things I have no
Disappointed maybe, but angry, no. I could feel my mood
begin to lighten up. I still felt a lot of pain from my disappointment, but much of
the sting was gone now that I wasn't "blaming" someone. It was too bad we would miss Egypt,
but it was no one's fault.
I gave the situation some more thought. My anger was
gone, but it was now replaced by curiosity. What did the
Captain know? What did he not know?
I thought it was odd that the Captain had not said a word about weather conditions
If the Captain was aware how bad the weather conditions were in Egypt,
then why didn't he just tell us?
"Hello, this is
the Captain speaking. I am afraid I have some very bad
news for all of you. Egypt is currently suffering from one
of the worst storms in modern history. It would be
incredibly dangerous for any of you to visit Egypt right now.
to extreme winds and high waves, it is not safe to for you to go anywhere
near Egypt right now.
Therefore I have
decided to turn the ship around and head back out to sea.
Since this is a two-day trip, if conditions improve in Egypt,
perhaps we will have time to
head back to Egypt and enjoy at least one day there.
However, any visit
today is totally out of the question. Please accept my
sympathies as I know that all of you have to be very
the blinding sand, we would not have seen a single thing in Egypt.
In fact, I doubt any of us would have even left the ship under those
conditions. The hurricane was too intense.
Therefore, given Egypt's weather situation, there was no reason to try to dock!
So why did the Captain even try? That was the Burning
Question. It was as much a mystery to me as any Riddle of the
Our cruise ship was under no obligation to dock in Egypt. The
contract says so very clearly. A cruise ship has the option to skip
any port for the safety of the passengers and the ship
Sure we would have been disappointed. Sure we would have
bellyached. But we would have understood. After all, everyone who has ever been on a cruise ship
knows the rule:
Cruise ships ALWAYS avoid storms! The safety of the
passengers always comes first WHETHER THE PASSENGERS LIKE IT OR NOT.
In fact, this is
such a universal truth, it raised a very disturbing question.
Why did the
ship even bother to approach Egypt in a hurricane?
During my research on
Cruise Critic, I found another person
who asked this same question.
and I were on the ship to experience the 'incident'.
There are several questions that we would certainly like
answered, and remain outstanding, and I wonder if any Cruise Critic member might be able to help.
a) We now understand that the port of
Alexandria was already closed when the ship left Rhodes.
The storm which was gathering momentum in the
afternoon whilst docked at Rhodes was moving south east
- exactly the same direction the ship needed to travel
to get to Alexandria. So why did we leave Rhodes?
b) There were many onboard commenting that the
Captain was asleep as the ship approached Alexandria. Is
c) The decision to attempt Alexandria was more
likely that of HQ than the Captain - a commercial
decision. Is this true?
(Cruise Critic, Archie, P. 21)
No one answered any of the three questions above. The only
response was this:
exactly, should any of us be able to answer any of the
questions that you posed? (Cruise
Critic, Page 21)
Good point. I had no access to the real thought process behind
the decision to head to Alexandria, so why should anyone else?
By the way, this man offered an intriguing nugget of information.
He said, "We now understand that the port of
Alexandria was already closed when the ship left Rhodes."
When I read this, my mind raced back to the two ships moored in the
harbor at Rhodes. Alexis, my guide in Rhodes, had pointed to
both ships and told me they were preparing to ride the storm out in
the safety of the harbor.
If this Cruise Critic person is correct (and I have no way to know
if he is), then the Captain's decision to take us forward to Egypt
becomes even more absurd.
However, I doubt the harbor in Alexandria was closed. After
all, if it was closed, what were all those other ships doing in the
harbor? Therefore this is likely just another rumor.
There were lots of rumors!
Another rumor was that the Captain was asleep. I doubt that.
Another rumor was that someone made a serious error in
judgment. I think that rumor goes without saying. Given the weather conditions both at sea and on land,
the decision to take us to edge of Egypt simply defies all common
Only one explanation was ever given. In words spoken by the Captain
over the intercom, he alluded to
being surprised by the seriousness of the weather conditions in
Alexandria. He said the conditions were twice as bad as his reports
indicated. The man sounded as if he was taken completely
When I began to write this story, I went back and reviewed
a letter the Captain had sent to each cabin one day after the
Incident. Here is a key paragraph.
from the Captain
mentioned during my announcement yesterday, on our
approach to Alexandria, we experienced extreme wind and
sea conditions, beyond what was forecasted.
In fact, we experienced winds in excess of 70 knots (80
mph) which was nearly double what was forecasted.
combination of the wind and sea conditions caused the
severe ship movement we experienced."
Forgive me if I misinterpret the Captain's own written words, but he
seems to be saying that the terrible weather conditions in the
Alexandria harbor took him by surprise!
If we take his explanation at face value, the wind conditions in
Egypt were forecasted to be HALF of what he eventually faced.
That would be 35 knots (40 mph).
And yet, thanks to Marla and others, we now know the actual speed of
the wind was over 80 mph which adds up to HURRICANE FORCE WINDS.
Okay, so let's say the Captain was indeed basing his decision to
approach the coastline of Egypt based on a poor forecast. What
kept him from looking out the window and noticing the height of the
waves? Or what kept him from looking at the same data that
Marla was privy to in her cabin and noticing the wind speed had
Actually, I think the Captain did notice these things. I heard
him tell MSNBC on one of those video clips that this was the
WORST STORM HE HAD EVER BEEN IN!
So, why didn't the Captain simply turn around once he realized the
forecast was bad?
Or why didn't the Captain check back to see if there was a more
By the way, I have personally been on a ship's bridge. Back in
2004, both Marla and I had the privilege of having the instruments
explained to us by none other than ship's Captain himself. I
can therefore assure you the equipment on the
bridge is state of the art.
If the ship was able to get a
satellite feed good enough to show CNN and Turner Classic Movies in
my cabin during that awful storm, don't you suppose also had access
to ACCURATE WEATHER INFORMATION?
Have you ever noticed an airplane
pilot somehow seems to know when there is turbulent weather
just up ahead? The pilot comes on and says things are going to
get a little rough, so please buckle your seat belt.
Five minutes later, sure enough, the plane suddenly bounces and
everyone gasps in surprise. But it is no surprise to Captain,
it? He had weather equipment to warn him of turbulence
ahead of time.
Are we supposed to accept that a multi-million dollar modern cruise
ship doesn't have the same equipment as an airline pilot?
Personally speaking, I think this entire argument of a bad weather
forecast is complete and utter nonsense. It seems to me that
someone is hiding something. What do you think? Do you
agree or disagree?
One explanation for the unusual persistence at reaching port despite
the weather conditions was to avoid disappointing the passengers.
I originally thought this was the reason until I saw the pictures of
Cairo under attack by the sandstorm.
Another explanation was there
were powerful economic reasons to try to make port.
And you know what?
If this was indeed the case, I doubt that it was the Captain who made the decision
to risk taking the ship in. I think his first duty is to
protect the ship and the lives of its passengers. I think someone thousands of miles
away in Miami with no idea just how bad the storm really was ordered the
Captain to take a gamble that backfired
after the accident, it was left to the Captain to pick up the pieces. In the
end, I bet the reason his explanation made no sense is simple - he
was under orders not to tell us the real reason. As a
result, a suspicion grew among the passengers that someone wasn't
being straight with us.
I believe that suspicion played a major factor in the coming