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Cruise Lines Scramble to Disembark Passengers

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By Allan E. Jordan 03-17-2020 07:24:56

The cruise industry is scrambling to bring all of its ships to port after the decision to pause operations in light of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). Although most of the cruise ships at sea are not reporting health concerns, the continuing global fears and the closure of ports around the world are hampering the industry's efforts.

When they decided to suspend operations, approximately 40 ships with 90,000 passengers were at sea according to a joint statement from the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). According to the industry trade groups, by March 16, 11 of these ships had completed sailing with the remainder working to safely disembark passengers.

While the U.S. ports remained open to receive cruise ships, many other ports around the world closed forcing changes to scheduled itineraries. For example, the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, closed over the weekend forcing the Carnival Fascination, Celebrity Summit, Freedom of the Seas and Norwegian Epic, to extend their voyages to Florida.

Australia also closed its ports to cruise ships but is working with the lines to facilitate disembarkations. The MSC Magnifica was permitted to disembark in Sydney on March 17, while the Golden Princess, which had been holding off New Zealand, is proceeding to Melbourne, and the Amsterdam is sailing to Fremantle. Passengers aboard the Pacific Princess have been at sea since March 3 with calls in Bali, Singapore, Phuket, the Seychelles and Zanzibar each canceled. Sailing from Sir Lanka, she is also heading to Fremantle.

Some of the disembarkations, however, are stretching local resources. For example, the Queen Mary 2, interrupting its world cruise, disembarked the majority of her passengers in Fremantle. World cruises typically attract older passengers, which was one concern, and there were reports on social media that some of the local hotels were scrambling to accommodate the passengers while Cunard completed arrangements for their homeward-bound flights. According to Cunard, passengers unable to fly are staying with the ship for the long voyage to Southampton.

Several cruise ships in the South Pacific, however, are still seeking a port, including the Norwegian Jewel, which had sailed from Sydney on a South Pacific cruise. After Fiji closed its port, she was forced to modify her disembarkation plans. According to a statement online from Norwegian Cruise Line, “We are actively working to find an alternative port and are communicating with guests regularly as we have further information.” The Maasdam, also sailing in the South Pacific, is heading to Hawaii while Holland America Line continues to work with local authorities.  

Other cruise ships are also undertaking long ocean voyages to reach a disembarkation port. The Carnival Miracle, which was on a Panama Canal cruise, will be skipping a planned call at Cabo San Lucas in Mexico and instead sailing towards Los Angeles, California. Similarly, after a stop in Port Everglades, Florida, to disembark passengers previously scheduled to leave the ship, the Queen Victoria is sailing across the Atlantic with the remainder of her passengers.

One of the remaining areas of the world to be resolved is in South America where Chile and other countries have also closed their ports to cruise ships. The Celebrity Eclipse proceeded to San Antonio, Chile, where Chilean citizens were permitted to land. Currently anchored off Valparaiso reportedly provisioning and fueling, it is anticipated that the ship will commence a long ocean voyage to California to disembark the majority of her passengers.  

The Zaandam is facing a similar challenge. Despite clearing a health screening at Punta Arenas, Chile, she was not permitted to disembark. She instead sailed for San Antonio, Chile, for a service call to take on fuel and other provisions, while Holland America Line is “working with several governments and embassies on options for where to disembark guests.”

Several other ships are also laying off South American ports or en route while working to confirm disembarkation arrangements. The Azamara Pursuit is currently off Valparaiso, while the Roald Amundsen is currently holding offshore at Punta Arenas, and both the National Geographic Orion and Island Sky are heading to Port Stanley. The Seabourn Quest was initially not permitted entry ports in Uruguay and Argentina but was able to disembark her passengers in Argentina giving hope that these other ships may also find a resolution.

In what has been a very difficult set of circumstances, the cruise industry has been working diligently to complete its planned pause in operations. FCCA and CLIA said in their statement that they were confident that all current cruises would be concluded by March 30.  

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.