West Africa will see an increase in cruise ship traffic this year and next, as ships react to the threat of piracy in East Africa and look to a region that offers relatively unexplored cruise territory.
Many lines are sending their ships from Asia to Europe around the southern tip of Africa and up its west coast, instead of taking the traditional route through the Suez Canal, which means passing through the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.
Pirate activity over the last few years has prompted many cruise lines, including Seabourn Cruises, Star Clippers and MSC Cruises, to avoid that area.
While other lines won't say that piracy is the reason, several have created itineraries that take their ships around Africa for the first time in years.
Crystal Cruises will return to West Africa for the first time in a decade in 2011, with the Crystal Serenity operating a trip from Cape Town, South Africa, to London from April 17 to May 8, making maiden calls in West African ports of Bom Bom Island, Principe; Lome, Togo; Takoradi, Ghana; and Dakar, Senegal.
Earlier this year, Regent Seven Seas' world cruise also sent the 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager from Cape Town to Fort Lauderdale with port calls in Namibia.
Princess Cruises' Pacific Princess 2011 World Cruise on the Pacific Princess will go from Australia to Europe, going around the tip of Africa and calling in Ludertiz and Walvis Bay, Namibia; Lome; Tema, Ghana; and Dakar.
Princess said it has nothing to do with the pirate concerns and points out that another ship, the Ocean Princess, will sail from Singapore to Rome via the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden.
"The decision to have the World Cruise visit West Africa was mainly due to providing a different route year over year for the World Cruise," said Karen Candy, Princess spokeswoman.
Other lines also said the region was attractive as it offers less-explored ports and is considered an untouched region for cruisers.
"The area has spawned so many heritage tours that we felt it was an area of interest," said Crystal spokeswoman Mimi Weisband, citing specifically the many excursions that focus on the slave trade.
In terms of tourism, the area is still vastly undeveloped compared with many cruise ports. For example, in Cape Town, Crystal offers 18 shore excursions, while in Dakar it offers only three.
The area has several national parks, including River Gambia National Park, a sanctuary for chimpanzees and hippopotamuses. Bom Bom Island is said to have some of the world's most pristine beaches.
Several lines are visiting the region without having to go around Africa.
Holland America Line will send its smallest vessel, the Prinsendam, on a 62-day cruise roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale in 2011 that will visit West African countries of Gambia and Senegal before going into the Mediterranean.
In December, Greek small-ship line Variety Cruises will embark on its first cruise program in the region since 2001, offering eight-day sailings on the Saloun and Gambia rivers from Dec. 17 through March 18 on the recently refurbished, 46-passenger Pegasus, which will operate the cruises from Dakar.
This report originally appeared in the May 24 issue of Travel Weekly.