COVID-19 pandemic: Cruise lines impose two-month suspension

Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz announced cruise cancellations. Credit: Reuters

Princess Cruises and Viking Cruises have voluntarily suspended all cruise operations for the next two months after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

Princess Cruises, operator of two COVID-19-stricken ships, Diamond Princess and Grand Princess, said that the suspension will affect voyages departing 12 March to 10 May.

Company president Jan Swartz said, “Princess Cruises is a global vacation company that serves more than 50,000 guests daily from 70 countries as part of our diverse business, and it is widely known that we have been managing the implications of COVID-19 on two continents. 

“By taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world.” 

The outbreaks caused several governments to ban access to cruise ships on concerns that the vessels, carrying thousands of passengers and crew, could be a breeding ground for COVID-19. The potentially fatal respiratory illness is caused by a novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Fear also caused many people to refrain from taking cruises.

Those currently on board a cruise that will end in the next five days will continue to sail as expected through the end of the itinerary so that onward travel arrangements are not disrupted. Current voyages that are underway and extend beyond 17 March will be ended at the most convenient location for guests, factoring in operational requirements. 

Affected guests will be offered the chance to reschedule their cruise through 1 May 2022 and given credits to on-board expenses.

Swartz said, “While this is a difficult business decision, we firmly believe it is the right one and is in alignment with our company’s core values. Rest assured the long-serving and dedicated professionals at our company will make best use of this time to prepare Princess Cruises’ fleet of cruise ships for a successful return to operation to serve our guests by delivering an exceptional vacation experience.”  

Princess Cruises plans to be back in operation beginning with cruises departing May 11, 2020. 

Viking Cruises’ founder, Torstein Hagen, said in a statement on the company’s website that the COVID-19 situation has become such that “operating as a travel company involves significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish the travel experiences for which our guests have been planning.”

Viking operates 79 vessels across the world, but from Wednesday all ocean and river trips are cancelled. Operations will restart on 1 May. A British woman on a Viking river cruise in Cambodia contracted COVID-19 this week, and has been placed in quarantine, along with 63 others.

Customers affected by Viking Cruises’ decision will be offered full refunds or credits if they choose to postpone their trips.

Worldwide COVID-19 infections have exceeded 110,000 and there have been more than 4,200 deaths.