Eight passengers stranded on African island after Norwegian cruise ship left without them

A dream cruise vacation has turned into a nightmare for eight passengers left stranded on the African island of São Tomé and Príncipe after their ship left without them because they were late to return from a private tour.

The tourists — six from the U.S. and two from Australia — were aboard the Norwegian Dawn, a Norwegian cruise line ship, which departed from Cape Town, South Africa, on March 20 for a 21-day voyage up the coast of Africa set to end in Barcelona, Spain, on April 10.

But on Wednesday, the group of eight tourists was late to return to the ship by more than an hour for the all-aboard time of 3 p.m. from a private excursion on the island, which was not organized by the cruise line.

Jay and Jill Campbell of South Carolina were part of the group that was left behind.

They said that their tour’s operator notified the cruise captain that they were going to be late to rejoin the ship and that the local Coast Guard tried to get them on the vessel but that they weren’t allowed to board.

As a result, the couple and the rest of the group have been stranded for days on the island off Nigeria, grappling with language, currency issues and complicated travel to catch up with the ship.

“The lovely people of São Tomé were very gracious, very hospitable. They had reached out as much as they could to help us find hotels,” Jay Campbell said on NBC’s “TODAY” show Tuesday morning.

“We were able to get to a tour agency there to arrange flights to the next port of call. … Very difficult process — you’re dealing with multiple languages, language barriers, you’re dealing with different currencies … finding someone that even has dollars … trying to get an agent to understand where we need to get to.

“It’s one of those ‘You can’t get there from here,’” he added.

A Norwegian spokesperson called the incident a “very unfortunate situation” and said, “Guests are responsible for ensuring they return to the ship at the published time.”

The cruise line said that after the guests failed to return, their passports were delivered to local port agents, in line with protocol. The company said it was working with local authorities to understand “the requirements and visas needed for the guests to reboard the ship at the next available port of call.”

On Monday, the guests had made arrangements to rejoin the ship in Banjul, Gambia, but the ship was unable to safely dock there because of “adverse weather conditions” and “tidal restrictions,” Norwegian said. The guests were then contacted and provided with information to rejoin the ship at Dakar, Senegal, on Tuesday.

Jill Campbell said they traveled through seven countries in 48 hours to arrive in Senegal on Monday night.

But the couple was reconsidering whether they even wanted to return to the cruise.

“We are considering whether or not we are going to board the ship. It is in dock here in Senegal,” she said. “We believe there was a basic duty of care that they had forgotten about, so it does concern us.”

“After what we witnessed, we truly believe that although there’s a set of rules or policies that the ship may have followed, they followed those rules too rigidly. I believe that they really forgot that they are people working in the hospitality industry and really the safety and well-being of the customers should be their first priority,” she added.

Ultimately, the eight passengers did rejoin the cruise before 8:30 a.m. ET Tuesday in Dakar, Senegal, Norwegian told NBC News in an e-mail Tuesday evening, after this story originally published.

Norwegian said the passengers were responsible for making their own travel arrangements to rejoin the ship.

“Despite the series of unfortunate events outside of our control, we will be reimbursing these eight guests for their travel costs from Banjur, Gambia to Dakar, Senegal,” a cruise line spokesperson said in a statement. “We remain in communication with the guests and are providing additional information as it becomes available.”

A silver lining of the catastrophe was that the Campbells were able to connect with another Norwegian Dawn passenger — Julia Lenkoff, 80 — who was also left on the island, but for a medical reason.

Lenkoff was on a different day tour Wednesday. She had “medically disembarked” from the cruise to seek local treatment on that day, Norwegian said.

Norwegian said that its care team tried to call Lenkoff several times and was unable to reach her and that it worked with its port agent in São Tomé and Príncipe for updates on her health.

The Campbells met Lenkoff and were able to put her in contact with her family in California, who flew her home — a move Lenkoff’s daughter said “saved her life.

“She’s a world traveler. She travels all the time. So this was going to be one of her bucket list trips, because she’s been to 120 countries so far, and she wanted to get to 130,” her daughter, Lana Lenkoff Geis, said in an interview that aired Tuesday on “TODAY.”

Norwegian said Lenkoff was escorted on a flight to Lisbon, Portugal, then put in the care of airport staff members to continue her journey back to the U.S., where she has safely returned.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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