Cyclone Hola creates storm of panic
THE cruise ship which hit the headlines after it was forced to return to Sydney after a bucks party gone bad last month has hit troubled waters - quite literally.
P&O is just one of many tourism operators in the South Pacific caught off guard by the rapid intensification of a cyclone in the South Pacific.
The P&O cruise ship Pacific Explorer has diverted its path after Cyclone Hola prompted swift changes to avoid catastrophe for tourists heading towards the area.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has issued some warnings on its website and told news.com.au the team was "watching it closely".
Cruises and flights are said to be affected while tourists in the areas have been forced to lay low. Over the next 24-hours the cyclone is expected to pass between Vanuatu and New Caledonia while New Zealand is expected to bear the brunt of the cyclone early next week. Auckland is predicted to be smack bang in the cyclone's path.
"The seas will remain very rough with heavy to phenomenal swells," the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department said.
Last month, the Pacific Explorer was forced to dock back in Sydney after a group of Australian men were kicked off the cruise ship after an out-of-control brawl broke out.
This month, it is in the path of Cyclone Hola, which caught many meteorologists off guard overnight with its swift intensity. The ship has diverted from the Isle of Pines, an island in the archipelago of New Caledonia, and will divert away from the most populous and most important island of the Loyalty Islands, Lifou Island.
Vanuatu, New Caledonia and New Zealand have been identified as risk areas as Tropical Cyclone Hola developed rather quickly over Vanuatu last night and morphed into a Category 4 storm, forming the dreaded "pinhole eye".
"Our marine operations people have been tracking the development of this weather system for several days," a spokesman for Carnival Cruises told news.com.au.
"As a general principle our ships sail away from severe weather systems and this one is no exception.
"The only ship that would otherwise have been in this general area is making course and itinerary changes to stay away.
"Pacific Explorer is alongside at Noumea today instead of making a scheduled call to Isle of Pines. We will continue to monitor conditions and respond accordingly on the basis that safety is, as always, the first priority."
Meanwhile, travellers in affected areas have been warned to be alert and steer clear as residents fled to evacuation points as the cyclone struck in Vanuatu.
"Of course all this is up to Mother Nature," posted an unofficial P&O Pacific Explorer Facebook page.
Say hello to Cyclone #Hola, which formed overnight near #Vanuatu. It should move south then SE, with no risk to #Qld. Still a moderate chance of another cyclone developing in the Gulf on the weekend - we are monitoring that closely. More on cyclones here: https://t.co/mRmh7OjFVq pic.twitter.com/8MrEd2pKdL— Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland (@BOM_Qld) March 6, 2018
Forecasters predict Cyclone Hola will make a sharp, southeast turn and move "dangerously close" towards New Caledonia in the coming days.
The idyllic Loyalty Islands, a French archipelago in the Pacific, are also in the firing line.
The Australian Government's Smart Traveller website warns tourists to expect "weather conditions to affect parts of Vanuatu for the following 12 to 24 hours".
"Airport operations in Vanuatu have been impacted by the cyclone, affecting some international and domestic flights," it said.
Warnings for New Caledonia and Fiji make no note of the cyclone except for a general cyclone warning.
The Bureau of Meteorology told news.com.au the cyclone was predicted to turn into a Category 5 superstorm - the highest level - over seas in the South Pacific on Friday amid intense hurricane winds throughout the area.
Heavy rainfall and flooding is also expected in Vanuatu while winds of up to 165km/hr have been reported by Vanuatu's Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department. Damaging gale force winds of 75km/hr are still expected to affect Sanma, Penama and Tafea provinces today.
"Luckily for Vanuatu Cyclone Hola intensified as it moved away from the island, as it crossed it was only a Category 2," the BOM told news.com.au.
"It intensified very quickly once it moved over the island."
Qantas and Virgin told news.com.au no flights had so far been affected by the cyclone.
- Australian travellers are urged visit the Australian Government's Smart Traveller website.