A CRUISE ship bound for far north Queensland has been forced to anchor off the Sunshine Coast due to Tropical Cyclone Debbie.
The destructive weather forming in the north forced a surprise stopover in Mooloolaba for the Azamara Journey cruise liner.
About 500-600 passengers descended on Mooloolaba this morning in a stopover worth about $250,000 to the region, with many headed to the beach, others to the Mooloolaba strip while plenty headed to the hinterland for a tour of Australia Zoo.
Scheduled to head north to Hamilton Island, the ship's itinerary underwent a last-minute re-jig, docking in Brisbane before heading north to Mooloolaba.
The Azamara Journey is believed to have been on its way to Singapore.
Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Simon Latchford said a team of volunteers had quickly assembled to welcome the guests, with about 480 passengers disembarked by 10.30am and about 500-600 in total expected to have come ashore.
After missing out on three visits from ships last year due to bad weather, Mr Latchford said it was a welcome bonus for the region, with the average cruise ship visit generating about $250,000 for the region.
"You've got to make hay while the sun shines," Mr Latchford said.
"Sometimes it's the other way around and we lose a few ships (unable to dock due to rough seas)."
He said eight of 11 scheduled ships docked last year.
A number of businesses at Mooloolaba were recording encouraging customer numbers yesterday, including Fudgees on the Wharf.
Zambezee, a boutique on the Esplanade, were also flat-out today.
"We have people from Asia, the Netherlands, Sydney, they're on their way to Singapore," one staffer said.
"There is definitely a few more than usual.
"It's great for Mooloolaba."
Visit Sunshine Coast's commercial development manager Andrew Fairbairn said the ship had been headed up the Coast from Sydney, but had sought shelter in Brisbane on Friday, advising it would then head north to Mooloolaba.
He said just less than 700 passengers were aboard, with he and the team of volunteers welcoming English, Dutch, German and Australian guests to Mooloolaba.
"They were very, very happy to be on the Sunshine Coast," Mr Fairbairn said.
"This was unplanned.
"It was a great community effort (to organise a welcoming party for passengers)."
Mr Fairbairn said the passengers aboard the Azamara Journey were "more of an affluent crowd" and he expected Coast businesses to reap the rewards as a result, adding "every second person" had been asking about the best places to go shopping as they came ashore.
"It was a good vibe," he said.
Tender boats were unloading 70-90 passengers every 10 minutes in Mooloolaba this morning.
The ship was expected to stay here until late afternoon before moving on to the next destination.
The Daily has sought comments from Azamara Club Cruises about where the ship will be headed next as a result of the disruption caused by Cyclone Debbie.
A Sunshine Coast Council spokesman told the Daily the ship was supposed to be in Hamilton Island yesterday and Townsville today, and the ship was now planning to be in Cairns by Thursday, March 30.
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