Last Cruise Ships Debark Passengers
More than five weeks after the cruise industry announced plans to voluntarily suspend global operations, three of the final cruise ships at sea with passengers have finally reached port and begun disembarking passengers.
In an odd quirk of timing, the three ships, Costa Cruises’ Costa Deliziosa, MSC Cruises’ MSC Magnifica, and Princess Cruises’ Pacific Princess, each arrived in port on Monday. In January, they had started world cruises before the coronavirus (COVID-19) began its global spread.
By March, as the virus reached pandemic proportions, the three ships had reached the region of Australia and the South Pacific on their cruises that were scheduled to last over 100 days. Each of the ships was struggling to find ports causing frequent changes in their planned itineraries.
Princess Cruises decided that the best course of action for the Pacific Princess, which at the time was in the Indian Ocean, was to reverse course heading for Australia. On March 21, she successfully disembarked the majority of her passengers in Fremantle. However, it was determined that 115 passengers on board did not meet the fitness standards for air travel or had medical conditions unrelated to COVID-19 that prevented taking long-distance flights. The Pacific Princess sailed trans-Pacific, making a technical call in Honolulu and disembarking Hawaiian residents, before arriving in Los Angeles to disembark her remaining passengers.
At the same time, the Costa Deliziosa arrived in Barcelona disembarking her Spanish passengers. The ship had been at sea for 34-days sailing from Australia via the Suez Canal making only technical stops for fuel and provisions. Reportedly, ports in Oman and the Seychelles had refused to let the ship dock. The Costa Deliziosa is expected to disembark the remainder of her approximately 1,800 passengers in Genoa, Italy, on April 22, 2020.
The MSC Magnifica, which the BBC has been calling “the last cruise ship on earth,” also docked on Monday in Marseille, France, carrying 1,760 passengers. Having departed Genoa, Italy, on January 5, 2020, the world cruise was canceled as the ship reached Australia in mid-March. Some passengers elected to fly home to Europe while the majority stayed aboard for the planned 12,000-mile five-week voyage. The MSC Magnifica would have a challenging journey back to Europe, including a firestorm of protests in Fremantle when rumors circulated that the virus was rampant onboard, denied docking in Sri Lanka and Dubai. With only technical calls in Colombo and elsewhere, the ship made her way through the Suez Canal to reach her final port.
The arrival of these three cruise ships came a week after several other ships had also completed their long-distance voyages. Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, P&O Cruises’ Arcadia and Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ (CMV) Columbus had all arrived in Southampton, England, on Easter Weekend after canceling their cruises and returning from Australia and the Indian Ocean. Additionally, CMV’s Astor arrived in Bremerhaven, Germany, last week also completing her reparation voyage.
In addition to the Costa Deliziosa, which still has to disembark her passengers in Italy, the German cruise ship Artania, finally departed Fremantle on April 18, after a three-week quarantine with passengers and crew both ill with COVID-19. The majority of the passengers and some of the crew disembarked, but reports indicate that the Artania sailed with some passengers in addition to her crew. She is reportedly heading to Indonesia and then the Philippines before her return to Germany.
With most of the passengers having been landed, the cruise industry is now turning its attention to reparation voyages for crew members. In the coming days, a number of cruise ships are expected to depart on these extended voyages with many of their crew members becoming passengers as they travel home on furlough and facing an uncertain future.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.