MSC Cruises bows to pressure to cancel South African programme

A picture taken on 16 March 2020 shows cruise ship MSC Orchestra leaving the Durban harbour. Credit: RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP/ Getty Images

MSC Cruises has cancelled the rest of its lucrative 2019–2020 South African cruise season, just a day after saying that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) emergency response plans did not prohibit it from continuing with its local sailing schedule.

On Sunday 15 March 2020, the South African president called for a limit on unnecessary travel in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19. Other restrictions include a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people.

In response, MSC issued a statement on 16 March, stating the South African COVID-19 response plan did not necessarily ban it from operating. “In addition, we are seeking clarification on gatherings of 100 people or more being prohibited. However, we know cinemas, shopping malls, and airports are still open. This has been confirmed by the Ministry of Health. As a result of the above clarifications, the cruise season is continuing as planned,” the statement read.

MSC Orchestra, with a capacity of 2,550 passengers and about 1,000 crew, was set sail from the Port of Durban to Pomene Island off Mozambique on the same day.

This decision was called into question on social media and the local press, which is likely to have resulted in the most recent statement issued on 17 March, in which MSC said it was cancelling all future sailings.

“This is not a decision we took lightly but under the current circumstances, the health and safety of our guests, crew, and the communities ashore – including our employees and their families – must come first,” Ross Volk, managing director of MSC Cruises South Africa, said in the statement.

MSC said customers will receive a voucher for the value of their current 2019–20 cruise package, which they can redeem in the upcoming local cruise season in 2020–21. In addition, they will also receive shipboard credit of USD50 per cabin to be used on a cruise in the next season.

South Africa currently has 62 confirmed cases of COVID-19, all of which are people returning from overseas trips.