P&O Cruises’ superliner Pacific Pearl will sail for Vanuatu this afternoon with a precious cargo of humanitarian aid to help the region rebuild following Cyclone Pam.
The 10-night cruise to New Caledonia and Vanuatu will double as a humanitarian aid mission with the equivalent of four full shipping containers worth of vital supplies being loaded onto the ship in Auckland and delivered during a call to Port Vila on Anzac Day - Saturday April 25.
A special part of Pacific Pearl’s New Zealand delivery will be a shipment of hundreds of quilts and dresses handcrafted by New Zealanders, collected at Bernina Sewing Centres by Fastway Couriers, and delivered to Matamata resident Caroline Mason who was behind the nationwide quilt drive.
Without even putting out a call, several companies including Adventures in Paradise, Vanuatu aid organisation Butterfly Trust and Auckland Central Football Club have also donated supplies ranging from baby formula to bedding, batteries and building materials, as well as water, water containers and water purification tablets.
While a number of shipments have been delivered from Australia in recent weeks, this is the first chance for New Zealanders to make use of a cruise ship to transport a big shipment of desperately-needed aid, which is estimated to help more than 10,000 Vanuatu people.
The items will be handed to the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office and are expected to be delivered to remote communities and outer islands.
As part of Pacific Pearl’s humanitarian mission, guests have been invited to bring canned food, insect repellent and personal hygiene products for distribution in Vanuatu.
Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival New Zealand, which operates P&O Cruises, said the people of Vanuatu had been welcoming cruise passengers to their islands for decades and the cruise line was honoured to be able to help New Zealanders play a part in the rebuilding process.
"Our passengers have been eager to do their bit for the people of Vanuatu. As well as banding together to deliver big shipments of aid, every time one of our ships calls at a Vanuatu port the influx of passengers plays a big part in helping island communities recover. With two-thirds of international visitors arriving in Vanuatu on board cruise ships, cruise tourism is crucial to the Vanuatu economy,” Ms Sherry said.
After being inundated with more than 700 quilts, quilt coordinator Ms Mason booked a cabin on the cruise so that she could personally deliver some of the items on behalf of all the New Zealanders who handcrafted them.
With the help of the Matamata Quilt group, every quilt has had a message of support sewn on, such as “We stand strong with you Vanuatu”.
“We all want to help the people of Vanuatu but not everyone has money to donate so I thought a quilt drive was a great way for New Zealanders from all walks of life to be able to contribute,” Ms Mason said.
“It’s only a small token but after such a great response, the quilts should bring comfort to a lot of people affected by the cyclone, whether they use them for bedding, to wrap up their babies, as a curtain for privacy, or in place of damaged pandanus mats. We’ve had nine-year-olds and 90-year-olds make donations and one batch has come from Christchurch where some women have made quilts, knowing how much comfort they can provide in the wake of a disaster.”
The April 25 call is the sixth cruise ship call to Vila since the cyclone with the port declared safe for cruise visitors to return as a result of the determined recovery efforts that have been underway since the cyclone hit last month.
Departing at 4pm today, the 10-night Pacific Islands itinerary will make scheduled cruise calls to Noumea, Lifou and Isle of Pines, as well as Vila. In place of Mystery Island, which was damaged during the cyclone, the cruise will call at Mare.
Pacific Pearl is based in Auckland for a three month season until June 6, 2015.