Updated: Italy Approves the Restart of Cruises as of August 15
Updated August 8: MSC Cruises immediately announced details of its planned cruises confirming its cruise restart. One day after Italy will lower its travel restrictions, the MSC Grandiosa will depart for its first 7-night cruise sailing from Genoa, Civitavecchia, Naples, and Palermo, all in Italy, as well as a 10-hour stop in Malta. Initially, only residents in Schengen countries can sail on the cruises. Also to limit the use of public transport or flights to reach the ship passengers can embark in any of the Italian cities. The MSC Magnifica will resume cruising on August 29 from Bari, Italy sailing 7-night cruises in the Eastern Mediterranean to Corfu, Katakolon (Olympia), and Piraeus (Athens) in Greece. Future sailings will also embark passengers in Trieste, Italy.
In addition to the changes in onboard operations in accordance with the company’s health protocols, the company says its new procedures include universal COVID-19 testing for all guests and crew prior to embarkation and passengers can only go ashore on MSC’s organization excursions in ports. Currently, MSC has announced scheduled sailings through the end of October for these two cruise ships while extending the cancelation for all its other cruises in Europe, Asia, and North America till the end of October 2020.
Italy’s premier announced late today, August 7, a series of new steps relaxing controls and permitting the additional resumption of businesses including cruises for the country that had been hard hit by COVID-19. Cautioning that precautions are still necessary and that especially the younger generations should be careful in their actions, Italy’s premier also said that the country was doing well in its fight against the virus.
Full details on the scope of the decision are still to be released but the premier said that cruising could resume beginning August 15. Cruising and a relaxation of restrictions to permit increases in tourism are part of the government’s efforts to restore elements of its badly damaged economy. The government also pledged significant financial support to the restaurant industry as well as to Italy’s farmers.
The two major cruise companies operating from Italy had been quietly taking steps to prepare to resume operations. Both Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises reportedly were bringing crew members back for their ships and making initial preparations for a return to service. Both companies earlier in the week detailed their new health protocols and steps that they would be taking aboard their ships when cruising resumes.
Anticipating that the approvals were imminent, MSC also provided some more specific details on its plans to relaunch service with two large cruise ships, the 181,500 ton MSC Grandiosa, which normally accommodates up to 6,300 passengers and the 95,000 ton MSC Magnifica, which has a capacity of 3,200 passengers. MSC said it anticipated that the cruises would only be available residents in the Schengen region and that it would limit capacity to 70 percent to permit social distancing.
Saying that it had already received approvals from several countries, including Greece and Malta, MSC expects to resume cruising with the two ships operating in the Mediterranean. The larger MSC Grandiosa they said would offer 7-night cruises to the Western Mediterranean while the MSC Magnifica would cruise in the Eastern Mediterranean.
MSC’s approach to resuming cruising is different than the cruise lines sailing from Germany which announced that they would resume with short sailings and agreed with the authorities to only operate at sea during the first phase without ports of call for the passengers.
The announcement that Italy has decided to resume cruising may also mean that the German AIDA cruise ships will receive permission from Italy to resume cruising. AIDA, which has its ships registered in Italy, said at the beginning of the week that it had not yet received flag state approval from Italy for the planned August short cruises from Germany. It was unclear if the delay in approval had at all been impacted by AIDA’s challenges at restaffing its ships and the fact that a few of the first crew flown to Germany had tested positive for COVID-19.
Italy’s decision to restart cruising joins it with France, French Polynesia, Germany, and Taiwan as the first countries that have granted permission for ocean cruises to resume. Norway earlier this week placed a 14-day moratorium on cruise ships with more than 100 passengers from entering its ports as it investigates the outbreak of the virus on a Hurtigruten cruise and the failure in protocols possibly exposing multiple communities to the virus.
Complete details on the scope of cruising that will be permitted from Italy are still pending but the cruise lines anxious to capture some of the summer vacation season will likely announce their plans very shortly.