Captain’s message to devastated cruise passengers
Passengers of the Ovation of the Seas are heading back to Sydney after their trip to Dunedin was cancelled following the NZ volcano eruption.
The ship's captain, Henrik Loy, issued a written statement to passengers expressing his sorrow over the tragic event.
Cruise ship passengers wold be provided with a refunded equivalent to one day of their cruise fare to make up for the cancellation of the Dunedin visit, he said.
"As we continue to work with the New Zealand Government to ensure everything is taken care of, we can't thank you enough for your patience and understanding during this terrible, terrible event," he said in the statement.
Some staff members and crew members have stayed in Tauranga with impacted guests and their relatives, he said.
The ship has docked in Wellington today and will head to Picton on Friday. It will then arrive back in Sydney on Monday.
Flags have been flying in at half-mast in Wellington while floral tributes and cards were left near a gate at the Port of Tauranga.
LIVES HAVE BEEN LOST, PEOPLE HAVE BEEN INJURED
By Charles Miranda and Matthew Benns
An emotional Maori ceremony was held at the base of the bow of the Ovation of the Seas for the dead, missing, injured and 4000 other passengers traumatised by the White Island eruption.
Staff hugged and passengers cried as they stood on the balconies of their berths to hear the Ngai Te Rangi Iwi local tribewarble a vigil of reflection.
"Lives have been lost, people have been injured and what was to be an enjoyable and exciting visit to a very interesting natural feature has for some become a tragedy and shattering experience," Charlie Tawhiao said to hundreds who had gathered on the dock in the port of Tauranga, slightly north from the island.
He added it was the tribe's cultural obligation since deaths had happened in their waters and spiritual home.
It is a huge vessel, a small town of more than 4000 on the seas but passengers said yesterday that did not stop the emotion on board the ship who unwittingly dropped passengers off on the island despite its volatility grade having been escalated two weeks earlier.
"I've cried a lot," Vanessa Lugo, 24 from Newcastle, New South Wales, said yesterday.
"We are all being careful, more of a community, talking to one another, strangers going up to strangers giving them hugs, it's been quite emotional. You don't expect something like this on a holiday."
Many Australian families spoken to by News Corp Australia said the cruise had been a sad experience and no one knew who was directly involved in the tragedy.
"My daughter had a friend she had just met, we haven't seen her since, we don't know if she is among the dead or the missing," one mother said, asking not to be named.
Another said people were speaking in hushed terms about the incident, not wanting to inadvertently offend someone related to the victims.
Some passengers yesterday left the cruise ship, some to remain with loved one in one of eight hospitals about New Zealand and others to fly home to Australia.
The Ooi family from Sydney's North Shore said it had been a very sombre cruise since the incident.
Student Bree Laugier, 24 and her partner Michael McKenzie, 22, from the Blue Mountains said councillors were constantly being offered to those on board.
"The (captain) is on the microphone offering condolences ad it is a bit distressing, there are all these councillors on the ship offering services," Mr McKenzie said. "Going to the island was a high end tour, it was a bit expensive so we walked up a mountain instead."
Some travellers said they were disappointed they were not being given enough information about the cruise and whether it was to continue with all shipboard announcements instead related to the tragedy.
"I just presume no one not even the captain and crew know whether the cruise is allowed to go on," one Brisbane traveller said.
'PEOPLE DON'T KNOW WHAT TO THINK'
Shell-shocked tourists told News Corp they feared for those missing and were still trying to come to terms with the disaster.
Police believe 13 people are estimated dead, three of which are believed to be Australians. 11 Australians are still unaccounted for including those believed to have lost their lives.
South Australian tourist Shane Soutter said: "We are okay but things are not too good on board. People don't know how to act or what to think.
"We are staying here and we are not sure when we are going. At the moment we are 24 hours behind but the people don't care because they are very worried for the others who are not here."
Mr Soutter said the captain of the ship, Henrik Loy, sounded emotional when delivering announcements to passengers.
"The captain seems almost in tears when he has to do the message" he said.
"Everyone is just trying to get their head around the whole thing."
Mr Loy earlier said he was in shock at the tragic series of events.
"It has been an unfathomable sequence of events," Mr Loy said.
"Any guests that may have been injured are being cared for at local hospitals.
"We are doing everything possible to help them."
Passenger Sylvain Plasse - from Canada - said the mood on-board the vessel following the disaster was "sombre".
"There is definitely a shift in mood, it is sombre," Mr Plasse told News Corp.
"There are some sad faces, I have seen one or two people with red eyes.
"It is tough. It is quite subdued, compared to what it was before when we were all in holiday mood.
Paul Toope from Sydney got a text from his daughter Sheree Toope who was initially feared as missing.
In what can only be described as a "sliding doors" moment, Ms Toope, 31, was meant to go on the volcano tour with her wife but did not end up going.
"I've talked to Sheree, I couldn't contact her last night, it hasn't been pleasant with all the deaths and the unknown," Mr Toope said.
"She's quite distressed, a lot of people are finding out people they've met have passed away.
"Her and her wife were supposed to go on the volcano tour. They were looking to go on it. For some reason they opted not to go on it.
"It is definitely a relief, it is very stressful for us."
NSW woman Rhonda White said her son and his fiance were on the ship. "It's a worrying time," she told said.
"They're physically OK, they'll be in port for the day. Emotionally it would be very challenging."
Ms White said she first heard about the volcano when she received a text message from her son saying he was OK.
Queensland nurse Kasey Bebrouth and her husband Martin were "grateful" and "relieved" they had decided not to take the day trip excursion from the Ovation of the Seas to the island in the Bay of Plenty.
Ms Bebrouth, a 36-year-old Ipswich mother of one, and her husband avoided potential tragedy when they decided to stay aboard Australia's biggest cruise ship.
She told her Facebook followers she was "grateful" and relieved they had stayed on board.
Her friend Stephen Irvine, who was messaging her after the eruption, said those on board had been left shocked by the tragedy.
Ms Bebrouth had witnessed an injured passenger being carried back to the ship, Mr Irvine told News Corp.
"The passengers have been offered counselling, " he said.
'GET INSIDE, GET INSIDE'
Others who had narrowly missed the deadly eruption ran shouting "get inside, get inside" as the volcanic landscape they had just been admiring erupted in deadly clouds of ash and steam.
A Brazilian man was capturing the peaceful moments and beautiful scenery as they left White Island on a small boat headed back to the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, showed the moments just before the blast from the centre of the crater.
Allessandro Kauffmann posted on Instagram "Some people have extensive burns on their bodies. Two tours on the volcano. Ours was the first. The other one right after. We left the island and wasn't even five minutes before it erupted. This other tour that arrived after couldn't leave in time … We had to stay to help those people who were on the island. The boat from this other tour was covered in ash from the volcano. Very tense talking about this. We just have to hope that all is as well as can be."
Panania resident Conrad Archbold said his son, Joel, is part of a group of eight Sydney teenagers on an after-school break aboard the cruise ship. The group opted not to take an optional trip to visit the volcano.
"They're all back on the boat together," Mr Archbold said.
"He messaged us and told us they were stuck at the boat - the boat can't leave because there were people stuck on the island.
"All they're being told is that they're staying on board overnight because there are people unaccounted for.
"They can't share the passengers' details but apparently they have been taken to the hospital.
"They're being told minimal information on board.
"All they've been told is that a volcano erupted and that there were people from the ship on the island at the time.
"They're waiting to find out if people were coming back to the boat.
"They're supposed to return Monday … we don't know how it will affect the rest of the cruise."
Mr Archbold said the ship is anchored safely about 90 kilometres from the eruption site and that the majority of people on the cruise are eight families with teenagers or older crews.
Another passenger Michael Schade, from San Francisco, posted video on Twitter showing huge billowing plumes of smoke metres high, while he was on a boat leaving the island.
"My family and I had gotten off [the island] 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it," he posted on Twitter.
"My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable."
One of his videos shows what appears to be a destroyed helicopter among a charred, white ground covered with ash.
He said his mother tended to a woman in a critical condition, but the woman "seemed strong" by the end.
Schade was at the main crater's edge just 30 minutes before the eruption happened, standing over the edge in a video, looking down into the depths of the volcano.
"My thoughts with the families of those currently unaccounted for, the people recovering now, and especially the rescue workers," he said.
"Praying for them and their recovery."
Passengers on the cruise said they had docked overnight in Tauranga.
"Hoping and waiting for news and the return of our crew and passengers," passenger Stephanie Wright posted to social media.
"Keep them in your thoughts and if you pray, hold them there too."
THE NZ CRUISE SHIP
Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas has altered its itinerary following the deadly eruption on New Zealand's White Island.
The ship, which was on a 12-day cruise from Sydney to New Zealand, was due to sail for Wellington on Monday evening then go on a tour of New Zealand's South Island - including Dunedin and Milford Sound - before arriving back in Sydney's Circular Quay.
The captain made the decision to stay in the nearby Port of Tauranga overnight after announcing to passengers that a group of guests and a crew member were on the island at the time of the fatal volcanic eruption.
The Ovation of the Seas has been taking vacationers on luxury nine-day cruises to New Zealand and back since the summer of 2016/17.
After a sunset departure from Sydney, the Quantum-class cruise ship takes two days to cross the Tasman and takes in Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds, as well as Dunedin, Wellington, Tauranga and Auckland as it tracks along New Zealand's east coast.
Its current cruise left Sydney on December 4 with 4579 passengers and 1595 crew on board.
Aimed primarily at family groups, the ship comes with a rock climbing wall, a skydiving simulator, waterslides, a theatre, a "bionic bar" (where cocktails are mixed by robotic arms), as well as bars, a total of 26 eateries, four swimming pools and a day spa.
Patrons can also entertain themselves at an on-board casino, at a karaoke venue, a discotheque and a running track, among many other attractions.
The website CruiseLawNews.com reported that Royal Carribean offered a "White Island Volcano Experience Cruise and Guided Exploration" for $US324 ($A474) per adult during its New Zealand cruise.
It was "an unforgettable guided tour of New Zealand's most active volcano," the report on CruiseLawNews stated.
News Corp was unable to access the reference on the Royal Carribean website on Monday night.