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No More Big Cruise Liners to Galapagos

August 21, 1994

Foreign cruise ships have been banned from dropping anchor at the Galapagos Islands and sending their passengers into the ecologically sensitive archipelago made famous by Charles Darwin.

Although two cruise ships--Cunard's Vistafjord and Paquet French Cruises' Mermoz--were allowed to visit the Galapagos for the first time early this year, the Ecuadorean government in May decreed a three-year prohibition on all foreign commercial cruise ships, regardless of size.

The ruling does not apply to Ecuadorean vessels, including the many smaller boats and ships that take tourists on one- to 10-day cruises around the Galapagos. However, even the Ecuadorean cruise ships cannot exceed 90 passengers, according to Sylvia Moncayo of Quito-based Metropolitan Touring, the largest tour operator in Ecuador.

The cruise-ship ban has won the support of environmentalists who say that large numbers of tourists would overwhelm the fragile ecosystem of the 13 major islands and hundreds of smaller ones that make up Galapagos National Park. (Already, a maximum of 50,000 tourists are permitted to visit the islands annually, and the park authority allows only one ship at a time to call at any Galapagos port.) Although the cruise industry is always on the lookout for new and exotic destinations, few tourists actually have cruised to the Galapagos on foreign liners. Most travelers fly to the islands and then board the small cruisers. However, the ban has forced one cruise line--the Hanseatic--to make some last-minute changes in plans.

The Hanseatic was scheduled to cruise the Galapagos for three nights and four days as part of a Nov. 3 sailing that will depart from Caracas, Venezuela, cross through the Panama Canal and end in Guayaquil, Ecuador. "In fact, the Galapagos was the main reason for booking the cruise," said a Hanseatic spokeswoman. The Hanseatic will now tie up in Guayaquil while passengers fly to the Galapagos and tour the islands. Letters have gone out to those holding reservations alerting them to the change in plans.

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