Mediterranean cruises return as global travel is still pending


Rome (CNN) – On August 16, one of the most common sights in the Mediterranean Sea will return: cruise ships. But it’s not back to business as usual for this besieged travel industry, which has lost about half of its $ 150 billion in annual global revenue since the Diamond Princess, docked off the coast of Japan. in February, became emblematic of how quickly the new Covid -19 can spread on a ship.

This sparked a global shutdown of sea cruises until July, when the few people who dared to restart were immediately hit with infections. The 180 passengers of the Norwegian cruise liner MS Roald Amundsen are still in quarantine after 36 crew members and four guests tested positive on a trip to the Arctic.

How will Mediterranean cruises be different?

The Med cruises currently offered are reserved for residents of the Schengen area of ​​26 European countries, according to new stipulations from the Italian government on August 10.

During the cruise, people will not be allowed to disembark from the ship on Italian soil unless they participate in tightly controlled organized excursions with other passengers only and minimum contact with the general population.

MSC Grandiosa will be the first to test the waters on August 16 with a seven-night cruise that will stop at Genoa, Civitavecchia / Rome, Naples, Palermo and Valletta, Malta.

‘Strict security measures’

The MSC Grandiosa cruise ship will embark on a seven-night cruise on August 16.

ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP via Getty Images

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC, said in a statement that all passengers and crew will be tested for Covid-19 before being allowed to board.

“During the break in our operations, we focused on developing a comprehensive operating protocol that builds on already stringent health and safety measures that have long been in place on board our ships,” Vago said in a statement posted on the company’s website.

The procedures include Covid-19 testing for all guests and crew before boarding and shore visits only as part of approved excursions, he said.

“With all of these measures in place, we aim to provide our guests with the safest vacations possible. “

Leonardo Massa, MSC’s national director for Italy, told CNN that security procedures to access the ship will be threefold.

Passengers will be required to complete a form and have their temperature taken, followed by an immunofluorescence test to detect the potential of the virus. If they pass this test, they can then check in and get their cruise pass.

Evolving pandemic

MSC Magnifica is scheduled to cruise around Greece in September.

ANDREA PATTARO / AFP via Getty Images

Once on board, Massa says the restrictions will be enforced.

“We don’t want to distort life on board, but we will ensure that social distancing continues,” he told CNN. “We have over 100 disinfectants and a new air conditioning system. ”

Each passenger should have their temperature checked daily. “The level of attention will remain particularly high. “

Port excursions will be for passengers only and all drivers and guides will need to be tested for Covid-19.

“These procedures will continue as long as this pandemic exists,” he said. “They could change, depending on the opportunities that technology allows or the evolution of the pandemic… until we get back, hopefully as soon as possible, to a normal situation. “

If Grandiosa’s post-pandemic maiden voyage proves successful, Magnifica will offer a seven-day cruise that will stretch to the Greek ports of Corfu, Katakolon and Piraeus.

Costa cruise lines will follow with its own phased re-entry on September 6 with the Costa Deliziosa – the last major cruise ship to carry significant numbers of passengers during the shutdown – leaving Trieste.

On September 19, the Costa Diadema will embark from Genoa with stops in Italy and Malta.

The two Costa ships were originally announced with pan-Mediterranean itineraries, with stops in Malta or Greek ports, but on Thursday the cruise line revised them, saying only Italian ports would be served and only Italian passengers would be served. allowed on board.

Allan Jordan is a cruise writer at the Maritime Executive who closely follows developments. He told CNN that the return to sea is a multi-expense situation taking into account the health of those on board and the stopovers.

“There is a level of risk inherent in authorizing any form of travel, but cruise ships are a more controlled environment than tourists from a plane passing through the airport are,” he said. at CNN. “Cruise passengers will at this stage be controlled and limited in their contact. “

‘Not what we booked’

Passengers aboard the MS Roald Amundsen cruise ship were quarantined in August after crew members contracted Covid-19.

Passengers aboard the MS Roald Amundsen cruise ship were quarantined in August after crew members contracted Covid-19.

Rune Stoltz Bertinussen / NTB Scanpix / AFP / Getty Images

Jordan also says many cruise lines are introducing onboard upgrades such as heating, ventilation and cooling systems sucking in more air from the outside, improving filters and even adding UV lamps that manage to kill. the coronavirus, according to some studies.

“The use of pre-board testing of course adds another level of precaution to the process, but as we’ve seen, Covid-19 around the world is very difficult and difficult to control,” he says.

“Obviously, there’s no way to make it completely risk-free, but following protocols and using basic precautions such as social distancing and masks reduces the risk of exposure. “

Passengers like Lesley Lees, who wrote an article on the MSC Cruise Information Facebook page, are not sure what they want.

“We are sailing the Mediterranean in September,” she wrote.

“We love to get off the ship and just walk around and just walk around and explore, we’ve been told that we can only do organized tours which we hate and neither do we want to be on a full bus where you can’t. not socially distancing even with masks on its absolutely not my idea of ​​a cruise, I really don’t want to go and I don’t think we should accept that. ”

Lees says his heart goes out to the travel industry “but this is a hard-saved vacation that won’t be what we booked.” ”

Those ashore at ports of call are also nervous. No cruise has yet been scheduled to dock in Venice, which was in one of Italy’s hardest-hit regions at the start of the pandemic.

There, the No Big Ship protest group called for never to allow ships to reenter the port despite the tourism blow that the city has felt in part because of their absence.

Barricade large ships

The spread of Covid-19 across the Diamond Princess sent shockwaves through the cruise industry.

The spread of Covid-19 across the Diamond Princess sent shockwaves through the cruise industry.

Takashi Aoyama / Getty Images

Mayor Leoluca Orlando of Palermo, where MSC Grandiosa will stop this month, told CNN in a statement that the cruise industry is lacking in his city, which has invested in expanding its cruise terminal to accommodate the largest of the pleasure craft.

“We are pleased that the cruise industry, which has played such a vital role in reviving Palermo tourism with tens of thousands of arrivals each year, is also restarting,” Orlando told CNN.

“We obviously expect strict compliance with the rules and procedures set by the national government for the prevention of contagion, for the benefit of all, starting with the cruise passengers themselves, but also the operators of the sector. ”

Ernesto Tedesco, the mayor of Civitavecchia, which is the port of call for cruise ships visiting Rome, has insisted that he will protect his citizens at all costs, especially after 12 crew members preparing for the MSC Grandiosa tested positive for Covid in early August.

At the time, he was quoted in local media as saying he would install blocks to keep large boats out. But in an interview with CNN this week, he softened his stance, saying he had been assured by port authorities and cruise line representatives that all precautions would be taken.

“Passenger movements will be monitored and controlled, and people disembarking from cruise ships that are not on a scheduled tour will not be allowed to re-embark,” Tedesco told CNN. “It’s up to the cruise line to make sure that no passenger disembarks if they aren’t on a scheduled excursion. “

He says passengers who start their cruise in Civitavecchia and arrive by train will be put on a dedicated shuttle to avoid mixing with the general population.

“Let us not forget that there is already the free movement of people and we have to restart our economic and living activities, so we cannot say that we are isolating the urban area from the port,” says Tedesco. “But monitoring the situation is fundamental, and that’s what we are doing. “


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