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November 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When Your Liveaboard Doesn’t Go Where It Promised

and makes excuses about it

from the November, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

People booking diving vacations on liveaboard boats often overlook the fact that conditions might be very different to those found at a resort securely set on terra firma. However, as big or seaworthy as a vessel is, it still operates at the mercy of the weather. The ocean is bigger than everything.

This can mean that itineraries get changed at short notice due to changing conditions. The safety of the vessel and its passengers are the priority, and when it comes to diving, the safety of those once in the water is equally crucial. For that reason, skippers must always maintain the right to adjust an itinerary as necessary.

Changes can lead to disappointment when people have expectations of visiting certain dive sites on advertised routes, and they don't get to see them. More disappointing are changed itineraries that were so changed to suit the requirements of the crew or operator rather than the paying passengers.

Some of us have been on liveaboards that were under-booked and didn't venture far from home port to save the cost of fuel. Or what about a liveaboard that spent a lot of time around one island because a crew member's wife was about to deliver their baby there. It's not fair but it happens, and passengers have every right to complain.

Adam Preston, A British national living in Thailand, booked a 2016 full charter of the Fiji Aggressor in 2014 for customers of his Koh Samui dive operation, with the intention to explore what is known as the "soft coral capital of the world." The Aggressor website map and description included the Bligh Channel between the main islands of Vitu Levu and Vanua Levu. However, by 2015 the website route map had been changed. The Bligh Channel had been removed, and instead, the route was diverted to Kadavu Island but still included the north-east islands. The website description and video still called it the "The Soft Coral Capital of the World." Even though Preston had paid for a full charter, he was never notified of the itinerary change.

In February 2016, Cyclone Winston ripped through Fiji, causing a lot of devastation. When Preston and his group boarded the Fiji Aggressor, they were taken on yet another route that spent all six days at Kadavu Island, south of Vitu Levu, the main island. He says that at no time was he warned of this alternate itinerary and reported they spent the six days "searching for any signs of marine life."

The reason for this route change, he was told in Fiji, was that "the Soft Coral Capital of the World" had been destroyed by Cyclone Winston." but he had not been pre-warned of this despite paying the second 50 percent of the charter fee in May.

After the liveaboard segment of their vacation, his party stayed at Wananavu Beach Resort. "Imagine our surprise when we saw the lovely pictures of healthy reefs and colorful corals other divers were bringing back from their scuba dive trips in the Bligh Waters," he says. "This in the area we were told by Fiji Aggressor staff had been completely destroyed and nothing left to see."

Undercurrent looked at the current video on the Fiji Aggressor website and noted that although it mentioned soft coral in the commentary, there was little in evidence in the visual material. Neither is the area most notable for vibrant soft coral, between Vanua Levu and the island of Taveuni, featured.

Undercurrent was unable to elicit a response from the Aggressor Fleet, so we contacted other liveaboard operators in that part of the world, notably those who operate the well-established Nai'a and the Fiji Siren.

Rob Barrel of Nai'a said that although the reefs had sustained some damage, "Often, relatively undamaged patches of reef could be found within 150 to 300 feet (50 to 100m) of severely damaged patches. While prior to Cyclone Winston, you could throw a diver pretty much anywhere on the best reefs in Bligh Water and Namena and they would have a great dive, after the cyclone we had to work a bit harder to make sure our passengers saw the best aspects of each reef. We extended Nai'a's route after the cyclone to include the Rainbow Reef near Taveuni."

He directed us to a video shot in March immediately after the hurricane. www.naia.com.fj/post.php?healthy_reefs-197.

Mark Shandur for Siren Fleet said, "Although it's true that there has been some destruction of the reefs from Hurricane Winston, there's still plenty of good diving."

Both suggested that some vessels embarking out of Suva are probably only restricting operations around Kadavu Island because of the prohibitive fuel costs for traveling farther afield. We still wait to hear from the Aggressor office, which markets the Fiji Aggressor.

In a separate case, Stephen Murvine (San Diego, CA) told us how he and his buddy booked a trip aboard the Bahamas Carib Dancer (Aggressor Fleet) and paid a $200 premium to dive Tiger Beach off Grand Bahama. Tiger Beach is a stretch of shallow low-lying reefs fed by the Gulf Stream that is famous for its preponderance of tiger sharks and a large lemon shark population. The Shear Water of Jim Abernathy's Scuba Adventures, Dolphin Dream and Stuart Cove's Dive the Bahamas regularly visit Tiger Reef.

"We went to a site they called 'Shark Paradise' on day one and saw a tiger shark on dive #3, so they called that 'Tiger Beach' on the dive debrief at the end of the trip. [Although there were plenty of lemon sharks], this was the only tiger shark seen during the seven-day trip. We never hit the Tiger Beach we paid for, and we both [later] contacted the Aggressor [office]. They gave some half-hearted excuse and said the whole Grand Bahamas west end was considered Tiger Beach and the extra $200 was because they came out of a port that charged more for this trip. My buddy has taken five Aggressor trips in the last year, and she only received this answer."

Again, Undercurrent waits to hear from the Aggressor office for their side of the story! Have you ever been disappointed in this way?

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