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Inclement weather on seas ruins welcome activities

By Raquel C. Bagnol

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, March 16, 2012) – Only empty streets and vacant parking lots could be seen Thursday morning at Smiling Cove Marina in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI), which was expected to be the drop-off and pick-up point for the passengers and crew members of the Queen Mary 2.

Due to rough weather, which created six to eight feet swells and white caps, weeks of planning and preparing the island for the luxury ship’s arrival were turned to naught.

By 9 a.m. Thursday, vendors had already dismantled their tents, and Smiling Cove Marina, which was supposed to be closed until 5 p.m., was reopened for normal operations.

In a press conference at the Boating Safety Office at the marina, CNMI Homeland Security adviser and task force security leader Marvin K. Seman said the boat captain informed them that the passengers were not going to disembark because of the rough seas.

The 1,132-foot ship arrived in Saipan’s waters at 4:45 a.m.

Seman said a team of government security and health representatives boarded the Cunard ocean liner for "clearing" purposes after a boat ride that took almost two and a half hours.

Seman said they took a quick tour of the ship.

"She’s beautiful," he said. "It’s hard to describe. It was like we were transported to another place, and there was no sign that it was a rough sea out there."

He said the Emergency Management Office issued a small craft advisory Thursday morning.

Seman said that planning for the ship’s arrival started 19 months ago. Over 50 security personnel from the Department of Public Safety and other agencies worked together to ensure that the land and water area would be safe for the passengers.

"This is one of the biggest cruise ships in the world, and it always attracts media attention everywhere it goes," he added. "We were ready for all contingencies, but the rough weather condition was something we had no control over."

Commonwealth Ports Authority ports manager Mary Ann Q. Lizama said "we know everyone was excited because this is the Queen Mary 2, and disappointment cannot be avoided, but we agreed that the safety of the passengers is the main priority."

Cunard ships, she added, are still interested in making another visit to Saipan in the next two or three years.

"We had the Queen Victoria docking here in 2009, and this is not the last time we will hear from the Cunard fleet," Lizama said.

Asked if the lack of tug boats was the real reason for the decision not to ferry passengers to Saipan, Lizama said no.

"The QM2 has a draft of 33 feet, and there is a section at our turning basin that has a shallow draft of 32 feet, 31 feet, and 30 feet. We did not want to risk having her run aground. She has an extensive length that would not have allowed her to make the turn. So it was decided that she would drop anchor in a designated anchorage that had deep water draft," she added.

"Whether or not the tugs [which are owned by a private company] were available or were lacking, we wouldn’t have had the QM2. The captain and navigator of the QM2 would not have come in dock side," she said.

Marianas Visitors Authority Managing Director Perry Tenorio said the disappointment everyone experienced, especially the vendors, was understandable.

"We had a really good turnout of vendors who showed up to sell food items, handicrafts and local products. Everyone was excited but we have to take the safety of the visitors into consideration," Tenorio told the Variety.

Except for one passenger who was transported to the local airport for medical reasons, no other passenger was able to set foot on Saipan soil.

Saipan Chamber of Commerce executive director Richard Pierce said those involved in preparing for the ship’s arrival "feel this is a great loss for the thousands of international travelers who will miss the chance to experience our paradise."

He added, "This is indeed unfortunate for all those that prepared for this rare opportunity, and businesses that looked forward to putting Saipan on the map for future international cruise line visits."

But the rough sea did not prevent images of the Queen Mary 2 from being posted by Saipan residents on Facebook Thursday. The Queen Mary 2 dropped anchor about a mile and a half from Saipan’s shores at 5:15 a.m., and left at 10 a.m.

Its next port of call is Osaka, Japan.

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