London – it’s the greatest capital city in the world, right? The streets are paved with gold; there’s history and celebrity lurking round every corner, and you’re never far from a classy restaurant or a character-filled bar.
And Greenwich, home of the National Maritime Museum, with a naval tradition stretching back for centuries. What better place could there be for a cruise ship to moor for a couple of days?
Well practically anywhere if you need a splash of fresh water, as my friend Captain Albert Schoonderbeek discovered this week.
His ship, Holland America’s Prinsendam, was scheduled to arrive in Greenwich tomorrow afternoon for an overnight turnaround, sailing on the tide at 4.00 am on Monday morning.
But there’s a problem. While in port, the ship needs to take on water, and because the Greenwich mooring is in the middle of the River Thames, they can’t just connect up to a standpipe. The water has to be delivered by barge. The port of London apparently has only one water barge – and it’s out of action.
So Prinsendam will not be coming to Greenwich tomorrow after all. It will berth instead down the Thames estuary at Tilbury, and Capt Albert had to explain to the passengers why.
Here is what he told them as they were leaving the Norwegian capital of Oslo:

May I have your attention please for a VERY important announcement?
As you know we have been scheduled to dock in Greenwich from August 22 from 16:30 in the afternoon until August 24 04:00 in the morning. At Greenwich we are not berthed alongside a dock, as we do here today, but we are moored on six big mooring buoys in the bend of the river Thames. Therefore all communication with the shore is by boat. Guests, luggage, stores, supplies, garbage, water, everything. The latter is now turning out to be an issue.
While in Greenwich we load potable water by bunker barge to ensure that we are not running dry during our stay. At sea we make our own water, which we top up in each port where we dock. Same as you saw us today here in Oslo. We have sufficient storage to last for about two days without any rationing being needed. We are in Greenwich for almost three days. Also during our turn over call we have to wash our onboard towels and all the linen, so as it is a turn over day that costs a lot of extra water. Therefore there is the grave danger that we will get very low in the evening of the second day or early in the third morning.
To avoid running out, we use the services of a water barge, which shuttles between the ship and the shore to keep us topped up. That barge has broken down and in the whole of London there is not a secondary barge in existence. That is a bit incredible, but it is the case. Only one water barge in the whole metropolis of London. That creates a problem, a big problem. A problem we can only solve by docking alongside a berth that has potable water connections.
Therefore it has been decided to deviate from Greenwich to the International Cruise Terminal of London located at Tilbury. Which is not as far up the river as Greenwich but is a docking facility.
This has the following consequences:
First of all, I will be arriving earlier. I am now not beholden to the tide as I do not have to travel so far up river. I expect to be docked at 13:00 hours instead of late afternoon. Secondly, important for the in transit passengers, I will be staying longer. Instead of leaving on the high tide of 4:00 am in the morning of the 24th, there will now be an all onboard time of 1400 hrs, in the afternoon. Hence you will have almost an extra full day in port.
For those of you who are leaving, instead of having to go by tender ashore and reclaim you luggage on the shore side, you can just roll off the gangway as this is a normal terminal as used in other cruise ports. On the 23rd, there will be a shuttle service running to Greenwich. Also the train station of Tilbury with direct trains to London is very nearby the terminal. You will receive further details and information about all the arrangements this evening and tomorrow while we are at sea.
I apologise for any inconvenience this might cause but this is one operational issue I cannot solve in any other way.


I can understand his frustration, but it looks like the departing passengers, and the new passengers arriving for the next voyage, will be inconvenienced as little as possible.
And it’s safe to say that if ever you were on a cruise ship facing a crisis like this, there’s no better captain to have in charge than Albert Schoonderbeek.
But if the organisers of the London Olympics are serious about looking for cruise ships to provide accommodation for the 2012 Games then they might need to check out the water supply first.