Costa Cruises - not Vietnamese port authorities - made the decision not to berth the Costa Victoria at popular tourist destination Ha Long Bay, the Travel Industry Council has been told.
The decision cut short a scheduled land excursion for some 300 passengers who later refused to leave the vessel in protest after it finished the trip in Hong Kong about two weeks ago.
Their sit-in caused a nine-hour delay to another 2,000 passengers who were scheduled on the next trip on the same vessel.
In a follow-up with the Vietnamese consular office, the travel watchdog was told that two barges hit each other on February 4, resulting in the sinking of one.
Maritime authorities closed the channel for an hour in the morning, but had reopened it by the time Costa Victoria neared the port, said the council's chairman, Michael Wu Siu-ieng.
Three other large vessels continued sailing to the Ha Long Bay port that day. Costa Victoria was the only one which refused to berth, he said. "It is not accurate to say Costa Victoria was refused entry into Ha Long Bay due to safety reasons," he said.
In a previous statement, Costa said the decision not to enter the bay was made "in compliance with the instruction from local Vietnamese port authorities, for safety reasons", and it was a decision beyond the firm's control.
The captain usually has the final say in a cruise ship's itinerary, the council's executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said. It is written in disclaimers, so it would be difficult for tourists to seek compensation when excursions were skipped. He also advised discontented passengers against refusing to leave a boat. "It is illegal, and cruise companies may sue passengers for compensation," he said.
Costa paid an estimated US$90,000 in extra berthing fees due to the delay caused by the protesting passengers, he said. The company has said it would reserve the right to take legal action. Miramar Travel, which sold the Costa cruise package to 1,000 local customers, offered compensation in red packets.
In response to the council's comments, Costa Cruises reiterated that its ship could not get to the anchorage position as scheduled after it followed port authority instructions. "The decision to reroute the itinerary … was based solely on the interests of passenger safety," a spokeswoman said.