Cruises: the hope of a return to sea in August begins to take water

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Will it be possible to embark on a cruise in August? The sector is still hoping to relaunch in this key month of the season, but from the closures of ports to new sanitary constraints, the refloating looks even more complicated.

The Mediterranean was concentrating a lot of expectations because of the relative calm that Europe has enjoyed since the start of the summer in terms of pandemics. And the reopening of the six main Greek ports on August 1 sounded like the siren of a departing liner.

But the decision on Monday of the number one in the sector, the cruise line Carnival Cruise Line, to postpone its first trips, scheduled this week after several months of suspension, for lack of a green light from Italy, shows that all the obstacles are far from being lifted.

On the same day, the Norwegian shipowner Hurtigruten also suspended all its expedition cruises after the discovery of dozens of cases of the new coronavirus on one of its ships.

In the process, Norway has put in place restrictions on cruises along its coasts.

However, the two main shipowners in Europe, Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises, are not giving up.

“We are ready, we have worked very hard”, assured Tuesday the boss of MSC Cruise, Gianni Onorato, during a press conference to present his new health protocols.

“We are awaiting the green light from the Italian authorities”, he added, hoping to be able to announce very good news in a few days “.

For its part, interviewed by AFP, Costa Cruises, Carnival brand, said “to work on planning the gradual resumption of its cruises, when the flag State and the destination authorities will define what is possible. do it”.

A health problem, health response

“The few signals that seem to emerge lean more for the second fortnight, or even the last week of August”, summarizes with AFP Erminio Eschena, president of Clia France, the association bringing together the main shipowners.

In the meantime, the companies have been working hard on health protocols, made public earlier this week.

Cruise passengers have tried to anticipate every detail with repeated checks of both crew and passengers, and reinforced medical teams, in particular.

“The state of health is monitored by daily temperature checks and by swab tests carried out each month on all members of the crew”, explains Costa Cruises, for example.

“Physical distancing will be possible thanks to the reduction in the overall capacity of passengers on board to 70%” and “the entertainment has been redesigned to create smaller groups”, details MSC Cruises.

“The measures taken go well beyond the recommendations of bodies such as the WHO or the EU,” said Mr. Eschena.

The boat that hides the local tourist industry

Faced with a coronavirus fond of confined spaces, it is a question of convincing national authorities who are still cautious.

“This sector presents an obvious risk, as certain inextricable situations have shown. And that rather affects a public of seniors, that is to say the most fragile ”, underlines to AFP Didier Arino, general manager of the specialized firm Protourism. “For this sector which has been in an almost interrupted growth dynamic for twenty years, it is difficult to imagine a real recovery as long as there are no vaccines”.

The tragic saga of the Diamond Pincess and its 4,000 people on board, which remained in quarantine throughout the month of February off the coast of Japan, with a number of contaminations which peaked at 700, has thus been remembered.

Beyond the companies, “it is a whole sector of service providers and territories deprived of economic benefits that suffer”, adds Mr. Arino. From January to June, the number of cruise passengers welcomed in Marseille fell by 84% compared to last year.

So today, notes Mr. Eschena, “there is also a real local expectation for this resumption of cruises”.

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