Food law stymies Celebrity Galapagos cruises

By Tom Stieghorst
Celebrity Cruises was forced to cancel two Galapagos Islands sailings when it was cited for violating an Ecuadorean law that the cruise line had no way of knowing existed because it had not yet been published.

The line's 94-passenger Celebrity Xpedition was banned from the Galapagos National Park for 45 days after Ecuadorean authorities discovered about 26 pounds of frozen lobster tails aboard.

The ban forced Celebrity to cancel the ship's June 2 and June 9 sailings. Without a valid permit, it was not allowed to visit the ecological treasures that guests want to see in the Galapagos island cluster.

Celebrity issued an apology and a refund to passengers, along with a voucher for 25% off when booking a future cruise and compensation for airfare or change fees, depending on who had arranged the flights. It also appealed the decision and the $2,000 fine.

Celebrity said in a statement that it is "committed to complying with the rules and regulations of the Galapagos" meant to safeguard "this unique and pristine environment."

No one denies that the lobsters were caught in local waters and during lobster fishing season, which in the Galapagos ran from August to December last year. Outside of those months, fishing is limited in order to promote sustainability. Celebrity said it bought the lobsters during the season from fishermen certified by the park.

But a new regulation requires that all lobster meat has to be consumed within five days of the end of the season. Celebrity said it was unaware of the law.

That's not surprising since the cruise line was cited for violations on March 11, but the regulation's terms were not published until April 23.

To make matters even murkier, on May 26, a judge in Ecuador issued a temporary stay of the ban, only to reverse himself several days later. And according to the Galapagos National Park website, the judge in question has since been replaced by another magistrate.

Cruises in the Galapagos are some of the most strictly regulated anywhere. Ships are limited to carrying no more than 100 passengers, and since 2011, they also must visit most islands no more than once in a 14-day period. Also, snorkeling, kayaking and boat rides are limited to specific times and sites.

In 2006, the ship's park license was suspended for two months after photos surfaced of Xpedition crew members holding up freshly killed sharks. The line said it had not been aware of the crew members' activities but accepted responsibility for what it characterized as reprehensible behavior.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.
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