Pricey South American cruises marred by politics

 Passengers of the cruise liner Adonia enter Punta Arenas, Chile, Tuesday Feb. 28, 2012.  The ship was refused entry in Ushuaia, Argentina, because th...
 Cruise liners Adonia, left, and Princess Star arrive to dock in Punta Arenas, Chile, Tuesday Feb. 28, 2012. The two cruise ships were refused entry i...

Chile Argentina Falklands

Passengers of the cruise liner Adonia enter Punta Arenas, Chile, Tuesday Feb. 28, 2012. The ship was refused entry in Ushuaia, Argentina, because th...

Chile Argentina Falklands

Cruise liners Adonia, left, and Princess Star arrive to dock in Punta Arenas, Chile, Tuesday Feb. 28, 2012. The two cruise ships were refused entry i...

One of the world's most exotic and expensive cruise ship circuits is being threatened by political strife, as Argentina's dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands and social protests in Chile prevent thousands of passengers from going ashore along the tip of South America.
Argentina, the Falklands government and Chile have succeeded in attracting more high-end cruises in recent years. Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city, takes in 450 visits a year from ships that sail between Rio de Janeiro and Chile's main port city of Valparaiso, stopping in isolated ports and even Antarctica.
But for mostly political reasons, a half-dozen ports of call have been canceled at the last minute in recent weeks, marring itineraries that include the islands, Ushuaia and Chile's scenic Aysen region.
The Star Princess missed stops on successive cruises in the Falklands and Ushuaia, the Balmoral missed its inaugural visit to Puerto Chacabuco, Chile, last month, and the Silver Explorer is likely to miss the same Chilean port on Tuesday, with anti-government protests there showing no signs of resolution. The Adonia's 710 passengers got it the worst, missing both Ushuaia and Chacabuco during their same premium cruise.
One frustrated Adonia passenger, David Wells, wrote on the ship's online forum: "Bad news, Argies not letting Adonia or American ship, Star Princess, into port because we have both been to Falklands.
Wells later sent an update from Chile: "The captain announced that we will not be going to Chacabuco on 3rd March as planned ... It seems that the Friday 13th start of the cruise is still bugging us."
Actually, the Argentines said they would welcome any ship stopping in the Falklands except those flying flags of either Britain or its territories, in a bid to pressure Britain into sovereignty talks over the disputed islands, which Latin Americans call Las Malvinas.
Losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in income just as the southern summer's cruise season wraps up has been painful for the locals. In Ushuaia alone, each disembarking passenger spends on average between $1,200 and $1,600 on food, excursions and gifts.
Beyond the missed paydays, tourism officials worry openly that the image of Latin American instability they worked so hard to overcome might dissuade travelers from booking future cruises.
"We here in the Falkland Islands are looking to enhance the cruise industry. I would hate to see anything put in the way to stop it," Falklands legislator Roger Edwards told The Associated Press.
The southern routes offer stunning natural wonders, from penguin rookeries to icebergs and glaciers and fjords. Some cruises run back and forth between Ushuaia and Antarctica, while others make stops all around South America. The trips tend to attract veterans of other cruises, and carry a premium price: Those making the Adonia's complete 89-day journey from England to Spain via Cape Horn and the Panama Canal pay $14,500 a berth.
The latest trouble began when the Falkland Islands government turned the Star Princess away last month, saying they feared some passengers suffering the stomach flu after stopping in Ushuaia would start a norovirus outbreak that the islands couldn't handle.
Princess Cruises called the cancellation unprecedented. Argentines saw it as a provocation. Edwards said Falklands officials made the only judgment call they could based on partial information they had.
Such health questions can be difficult to resolve without direct communication between governments, and relations between the two countries have suffered as tensions rise ahead of the April 2 anniversary of Argentina's failed 1982 war to wrestle the islands from Britain.
The Star Princess continued on to Brazil and then headed back south with another set of passengers, only to be turned away by Ushuaia's governor as it approached the dock. Tourist industry workers stood on the docks, trying to tally their losses as the Star Princess and the Adonia sailed silently past them. Both flew the flag of Bermuda, a British territory.
"We are so hard hit that we haven't yet calculated the economic cost," said Marcelo Lietti, president of the Ushuaia tourism chamber, to the AP. "What is happening is a political whim and an irresponsible attitude by the government."
"We all support the claim of sovereignty for the Malvinas," he added. "But you can't do it by prohibition; you need to do it by education and raising consciousness."
The three ships rounded the continent's southern tip, and Adonia and Balmoral passengers looked forward to their next stops in Chile, where day trips include rides on small boats up to the edge of glacial icebergs.
But Puerto Chacabuco, the gateway to Aysen's natural wonders, was suddenly closed for business due to local protests over high gas prices and low wages. Activists have blocked roads and cut electricity, clashing with police and looting the area's largest food warehouse.
Summers are brief in this part of the world, and February is the most important month for tourism in Aysen. This year, less than 20 percent of hotel beds were occupied, and Aysen regional tourism director Francisco Lazo told the AP that since the protests began, the isolated region has lost at least 80 percent of its tourists _ as many as 3,800 people who would have been shopping, eating in restaurants and going on excursions.
Tourism officials in Chile Friday were trying to determine whether ongoing protests would prevent the Balmoral from docking in Puerto Chacabuco on Saturday en route to its final port of call in Valparaiso on March 6. Also in doubt is the March 6 Aysen stop of the Silver Explorer, formerly the Prince Albert II, which offers "unrivaled luxury" to just 132 guests each trip.
For Princess Cruises and Carnival Corp., whose British P&O Cruises subsidiary owns the Adonia, the damage has been done this cruise season. Julie Benson, vice president of public relations for Princess, said the main impact was "the disappointment to passengers at not being able to visit a port on the scheduled itinerary."
"We will monitor this issue in relationship to our next South America sailing, which departs in December of this year," she told the AP.
It's unclear whether Argentina will ban more ports of call by cruise ships of British provenance or flying "flags of convenience" from British territories. Britain said it would file a formal trade complaint with the European Union against Argentina over this week's missed ports of call.
Edwards said Falklanders would oppose anything that gets in the way of the cruises. "We here in the Falklands Islands welcome all cruise ships."
Associated Press writers Debora Rey in Buenos Aires, Michael Warren in Santiago and Gisela Salomon in Miami contributed to this report.

Updated : 2021-04-11 21:05 GMT+08:00