Passengers on Mediterranean cruise test positive for covid-19

Two passengers tested positive for the coronavirus during routine checks aboard a Mediterranean cruise this week, MSC Cruises said.

The passengers, who were asymptomatic, got their positive test results on Monday, according to MSC Cruises spokesman Luca Biondolillo. They were not travelling together on the MSC Seaside. Biondolillo said the individuals and their travelling groups, as well as close contacts, were immediately isolated, and no one aside from the original two passengers tested positive.

According to the Times of Malta, the vessel was not allowed to make a regular call-in to Malta’s Valletta cruise port Monday. Instead, Biondolillo said, the ship made a “technical call” — where passengers don’t disembark — and then resumed its regular schedule with a stop in Sicily.

Both passengers and their parties left the ship in Siracusa, on the island of Sicily, and were taken home “by protected MSC Cruises transport” Tuesday, the cruise company said. The ship continued its normal schedule after the Siracusa stop.

“All of this took place in line with the protocol and in coordination with the local health authorities,” Biondolillo said in an email Wednesday.

Passengers on MSC ships are not required to be vaccinated, but they have to undergo several tests: two to three days before leaving for a cruise, just before getting on the ship and midway through the cruise, Biondolillo said.

“If anything, this is another demonstration that the protocol works,” he said.

The company started sailing in the Mediterranean in August 2020 and has seen “a handful such cases” since, Biondolillo said, adding that “many thousands” of passengers have sailed safely.

Cruise ships have slowly started service again around the world, but still have not resumed in the United States since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shut the industry down last March. The agency is not requiring cruise ships to sail with vaccinated passengers but will allow those with at least 95 per cent of vaccinated crew and guests to skip test cruises meant to show how they will deal with covid-19 risks.

The first cruise from U.S. shores with paying passengers is scheduled to set sail later this month. The Celebrity Cruises ship will require everyone 16 and older to be fully vaccinated — a condition that comes into conflict with a Florida law that says businesses can’t ask for proof of vaccination status.

MSC Cruises, which is headquartered in Geneva, announced this week that it plans to start short cruises on MSC Meraviglia from Miami to the Bahamas on Aug. 2. The company recently got approval from the CDC to conduct a test cruise on that vessel.

The company said it will “welcome both vaccinated and non-vaccinated guests,” with those who are not vaccinated subject to additional testing and restrictions. Rubén Rodriguez, president of MSC Cruises USA, said in a statement that he expects the majority of passengers will be vaccinated.

“The rapid distribution of vaccines in the U.S. has been a positive step toward helping vacationers get back to travelling, and we encourage our guests to take advantage of this added layer of protection when resuming travel this summer,” he said.

MSC Group debuts new luxury cruise brand named Explora Journeys

A glimpse of the new Explora I, which will start being delivered in 2023 (Images: MSC Cruises)

The MSC Group is to enter the luxury cruise market for the first time with the new brand Explora Journeys, which will comprise four luxury ships built by Fincantieri and scheduled for delivery in 2023, 2024, 2025 and 2026.

Fincantieri cut the steel for the first ship Explora I at its yard in Monfalcone, Italy on 10 June during a ceremony attended by representatives from MSC Group, Explora Journeys and Fincantieri’s management team.

“Building a luxury brand that will redefine the cruise experience and create a category of its own has been a long-held vision of mine and my family,” said Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Group’s cruise business and broader passenger division. “Inspired by our personal travel wishes, Explora Journeys will be an ocean escape like no other, allowing guests to relax, make memories, and cherish the time at sea with their loved ones. After all, time is the ultimate luxury.”

Created in partnership with renowned superyacht and luxury hospitality designers, Explora I will “blend elegant Swiss precision with modern European craftsmanship” and feature onboard spaces designed with water as a focal point to “put guests in an ocean state of mind”. The ship will span 14 decks and boast 461 oceanfront suites and residences with floor-to-ceiling windows and a private terrace. The suites will start at 35 square metres, making them among the most spacious for the category in the industry.

Explora I will feature a promenade deck with indoor and outdoor whirlpool baths, a pool with a retractable glass roof and more than 2,500 square metres of outdoor decks with three outdoor pools and 64 private cabanas. Other onboard highlights will include nine distinct restaurants offering flexible dining times, several indoor and outdoor bars and lounges, and an indoor/outdoor spa and fitness area where guests will be able to enjoy group classes, personal training sessions and bespoke wellness experiences.

“Explora Journeys was designed for guests who want to stay longer, leave later, and travel deeper,” said Michael Ungerer, CEO of Explora Journeys. “Customer centricity is at the core of everything we do. We’ve commissioned research, organised focus groups, and hosted roundtable discussions with global specialists in luxury to design the perfect ship for our guests. Explora Journeys will bring a new perspective to the travel industry, reinventing the classic cruise experience for the next generation of luxury travellers.”

All four Explora Journeys vessels will be equipped with the latest green technologies and will be designed to adapt to alternative energy solutions as they become available. Initially, they will be powered by marine gas oil, but the design incorporates provision for battery storage, which will facilitate hybrid power generation in the future. They will also be built with ship-to-shore power capabilities to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions at berth, as well as selective catalytic reduction technology to decrease nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 per cent.

In addition, all four ships will be RINA Dolphin-certified for reduced underwater noise and single-use plastics will be banned – both on the ship and during land-based experiences.
“The MSC Family knows the sea like few others, and with that knowledge comes passion, love and most of all, a deep respect,” said Vago. “Our ships will utilise state of the art technology to ensure we are leading the movement towards a more sustainable future. Together with our partners, we’re currently developing groundbreaking technologies that will elevate the status quo, not just for this generation but also beyond.”

Explora Journeys will offer voyages starting at seven nights in length, which will include overnight stays, as well as non-conventional arrival and departure times. Destinations will include well-known destinations such as Reykjavik in Iceland, Saint Tropez and Bordeaux in France, and lesser-known ports such as Kastellorizo in Greece, Bozcaada in Turkey, and Norway’s Lofoten Islands. Bookings for inaugural cruises will open in autumn 2021.

MSC’s Supply Chain and Fleet Certified for Highest Standards of Food Safety

MSC Cruises has announced that it has become the industry’s first major line to have its entire food safety supply chain and fleet of ships certified for onboard food safety by the global International Organization for Standardization, commonly known as ISO.

The company heralded its celebratory success on the World Health Organization’s ‘World Food Safety Day 2021’ today, following the granting of the internationally acclaimed and recognized ISO22000 food safety management system certification for 17 of the Company’s ships.

“We’re extremely proud to be on top of the cruise industry’s league table for WHO’s World Food Safety Day with our fleet of ships and delighted that our entire food supply chain ‘from farm to fork’ has been certified,” said Genoa-based Managing Director of MSC Cruises’ Food and Beverage Division, Paolo Raia.

“We have demonstrated at MSC Cruises that our industry-leading health and safety protocol goes above and beyond what regulatory authorities demand, and it’s no different with food safety as we always strive to go one step further than what is required,” he added.

MSC’s two new vessels for 2021 – the MSC Virtuosa and MSC Seashore – are on track to be certified in the next few months, the cruise line said.

Onboard audits are undertaken by Bureau Veritas to verify that the highest standards of food safety are undertaken by MSC Cruises for its guests and crew. This year alone, MSC said, Bureau Veritas has conducted 36 separate audit days and examined more than 5,000 food safety records onboard the cruise line’s ships.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, MSC Cruises annually served up nearly 285 million dishes and poured more than 125 million drinks for its guests, according to a press release.

Raja said that food safety is “understandably” taken for granted within day-to-day society.

“A cruise ship needs to have a systematic, well-considered and planned approach in place to guarantee the food safety for guests and crew on board,” he said.