1996 - 1999 Pioneer in South African waters

Symphony Cape Town
  Source: Ian Shiffman, Table Bay Underway Shipping
Summer 1996 Round-trip-cruises to the Western Mediterranean
Winter 1996-  
May 1999
First cruise ship serving the South-African market year round
9.06.1997 One-week-overhaul in Durban
Mai - 23.10.1999 Cancellation of summers season´s Greece program. Instead round-trip-cruise to the Western Mediterranean
Durban-based short cruises (South Africa)
4.05.1999 Golden Sun Cruises announces, they will charter the ship in 2000
Millennium cruise to Mauritius
As works were scheduled to be finished not before 10 May 1996, the winter of 1995/96 didn’t see a South-African cruise program. The year 1996 again saw the SYMPHONY on her weekly cruises in the Western Mediterranean. The cruises started from Genoa, one of the large constants in the life of this ship. From there she sailed to Capri, Palermo, Tunis, Palma, Ibiza and Barcelona, before she returned to Genoa. The cruises could be interrupted either in Tunis or Palma for beach holidays. At the end of the year she sailed to South African coasts again, which she already knew from her use as replacement for the ACHILLE LAURO. But even this time she could not free herself from the fate of her former fleetmate: compensation claims by passengers of this ship had been submitted against Star Lauro, and press reports prophesied already, that the SYMPHONY could be seized by the Transvaal supreme Court as security for these demands. Fortunately that did not come true, and she could carry out her voyages unimpaired.

Shortly later a new threat arose: MSC decided in January 1997 to buy the cruise ship STAR SHIP ATLANTIC from the American-based Premier Cruise Line for the price of $70 millions, which was renamed MELODY. It was twice as large as the SYMPHONY and a relatively new cruise ship, with tower-high superstructures, and she could accommodate twice as many passengers. The management of MSC hoped to be able to better compete against the megaships of Costa, because the competitiveness of a cruise ship grows with its size. This new flagship then superseded the SYMPHONY in her traditional cruise area in the MSC cruise program, and left the SYMPHONY searching for a new employment now.

MSC decided to give a year-round employment in the South African market a try. Being in South Africa already her positioning cruise to the Mediterranean was already taken over by her new colleague MELODY. So far there had never been a cruise ship, which cruised all year round for this rather small market, let alone a profitable one.
Base port became Durban. There the SYMPHONY also met the heiress of her Mediterranean route, the MELODY, in the still fresh MSC colors and on the way to Genoa. The SYMPHONY settled down in South Africa in the meantime. The city of Durban had donated a new ship bell to replace the old one of the PROVENCE on the foredeck. On 9 June 1997 she received a one-week-refurbishment by a shipyard in Durban. She was marketed by the South African company Starlight Cruises. The program of South Africa-based cruises was extended from 36 to 117 cruises reaching as far as May 1998. Among these cruises the majority were short cruises of 3 or 4 days to Bazaruto and Portuguese Island, in order to adapt to the lower spending power of the South Africans compared to Europeans. Prices started at only 1515 Rand (about 330 $). In addition, some longer cruises were offered, e.g. a 9-nights-cruise to Mauritius and Reunion or a 17-nights-cruise to the Seychelles, Madagascar and Zanzibar. MSC hoped for approximately 50,000 passengers per year. These forecasts seem to have come true, because MSC decided to station the ship in South Africa for the whole year 1998 too. This year, her cabins received a refurbishment. Star Cruises now additionally offered Incentive cruises (enterprises could charter the ship to reward merited employees with a cruise), and made it available as swimming congress center on short cruises. A cruise for the Municipal and Allied Union in March 1999 caused a commotion, because some delegates from Cape Town brought their spouses, at the expense of the union. For 1999 MSC even hoped for 78.000 passengers.

In the course of the year 1998 the value of the South African Rand dropped however from 4,60 Rand per $ to 6,60 Rand per $, so that the shipping company obtained only an equivalent of 230 instead of 330 $ for the most inexpensive cruise. Thus in autumn 1998 MSC decided to use the SYMPHONY in the Mediterranean again during the summer of 1999, after the years 1997 and 1998 had been the first in her long history, that hadn’t seen her sail the Mediterranean. When she left the port of Durban for the Mediterranean in April 1999, sailing via the Suez channel, again weekly cruises were scheduled, this time starting from Venice to the Aegean sea, a district, which was more suitable than the Western Mediterranean for this small ship (compared with the new megaliners). But again a stroke of fate hit the ship: In Kosovo the war had broken out in the meantime, which made the Adriatic the marching-up area of the NATO fleet. MSC decided to shift the entire summer program of the SYMPHONY to the Western Mediterranean. The cruises now started in Genoa leading to Naples, Malta, Tunis, Ibiza and St. Tropez. Thus it seems that her former home port Genoa won’t let her go. Before the Genoa-based cruises she went to the shipyard at the end of May for another refurbishment of her cabins. Besides, South Africa should continue to be her second home, like it was South America once. She cast of for this market again to go on with short cruises on a 700-Rand-per-day basis. On 14 November 1999 she was based in Durban again, in time to bring wealthy passengers safely into the next millenium on a "Millennium Cruise" . This journey took her to Mauritius for a 3-days stay and celebrating the turn of the century, for a staggering amount of 12200 Rand.

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