MIAMI/PHILIPSBURG--Cruise lines Princess Cruises and Viking Cruises have decided to voluntarily suspend their operations temporarily due to the spreading of coronavirus COVID-19. This will result in no cruise calls by these lines to St. Maarten until May.
Port St. Maarten said it was officially informed of Princess Cruises’ decision to suspend its operations on Thursday afternoon. Princess Cruises will not undertake voyages on any of its 18 cruise ships from Thursday, March 12, until May 10.
Princess Cruises vessels Regal Princess, Sky Princess and Caribbean Princess will discontinue port calls to St. Maarten until May 20, according to Port St. Maarten. Princess Cruises accounts for about seven per cent of St. Maarten cruise calls. The announcement translates to a loss of roughly nine calls or about 30,000 passengers in next 60 days. The cruise line carries approximately 50,000 passengers daily.
“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,” said Princess Cruises President Jan Swartz.
The cruise line is part of a family of companies owned by Carnival Corporation which also includes Holland America Line and Cunard Line, among others.
Princess Cruises has already faced outbreaks of COVID-19 on two of its ships. The cruise line came under intense criticism for how it handled the outbreak onboard its Diamond Princess earlier this year. This outbreak led to more than 700 of the ship’s 3,700 passengers and crew testing positive for the virus and several died. The vessel was quarantined in a Japanese port on February 4.
Viking Cruises also suspended all its operations until April 30 due to the threat posed by the coronavirus. Viking accounts for one per cent of St. Maarten cruises. There was a Viking call scheduled for today, Friday, but it was cancelled.
“The situation has now 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,” said Viking Cruises founder and Chairman Torstein Hagen.
The Walt Disney Company announced on Thursday that it will suspend all new departures on its Disney Cruise Line as of March 14. The suspensions will last through March. According to Port St. Maarten’s website, the next Disney cruise ship expected in port is scheduled to call on November 6.
Port St. Maarten said it expects other cruise lines to adapt their cruise itineraries in the coming days and weeks due to COVID-19.
“The declaration of a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday … and the announcement by US President [Donald Trump – Ed.] on Wednesday evening of travel restrictions for travellers from the Schengen area of the European Union (EU), may lead to cruise lines further adapting cruise ship schedules and taking other measures if necessary, as this is an ongoing, evolving situation that is changing on a daily basis.
“All cruise tourism stakeholders should prepare contingency plans for the coming two months.
“We fully understand the measure that has been taken by the cruise line due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, and we continue to communicate with our cruise line partners regularly with respect to current developments, also taking into account the significance of cruise tourism to our national economy,” said Port St. Maarten on Thursday.
Port St. Maarten said it is working closely with government and other stakeholders to ensure “the protection of the local population where it concerns infectious diseases.” It also said it has been working closely with cruise industry partners such as the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) and individual cruise lines regarding pre-boarding measures and onboard protocols for handling infectious disease.
A voice message that circulated on social media on Thursday said there will be no cruise ships calling at St. Maarten for the next two to three weeks as of Thursday, March 12. Port St. Maarten emphasised that this is false information and that it “did not communicate any official information to any of its stakeholders that there will be no cruise ship calls for the next two to three weeks.”
“It is very unfortunate that statements of this nature are being made and attributed as coming from the port. All stakeholders have a role to play to be responsible in these challenging times. Stick to official sources for factual information.
“Port management will further update stakeholders and the community as information becomes available related to any further changes to cruise ship itineraries due to the evolving situation related to COVID-19, and developments within the cruise sector,” said Port St. Maarten on Thursday.