Royal Caribbean and MSC cancel sailings over coronavirus fears


MSC Splendida in Valletta \Harbour photo credit Dave Jones

This story was updated on Monday, January 27 at 8.30am.

Royal Caribbean International and MSC Cruises have cancelled sailings from Shanghai amid concerns over the Chinese coronavirus outbreak.

Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas’ departure on Monday and an MSC Splendida sailing on January 28 have both been pulled.

Quantum-Ultra class ship Spectrum of the Seas was due to sail a four-day Best of Okinawa cruise, but the line has decided to suspend the voyage and is offering affected passengers “full refunds for the cancellation”.

The coronavirus has killed at least 81 people, infected around 3,000 and spread to as many as ten countries outside China.

There have been at least 44 confirmed cases outside China, including in Australia, the USA, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and France.

The FCO hardened its travel advice over the weekend advising against all travel to Hubei Province, the course of the outbreak. “If you are in this area and able to leave, you should do so,” it said.

Royal Caribbean said on Friday that passengers who had travelled through or were from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus first broke out, would not be allowed to board its ships.

However, the line has now adopted a tougher stance in a bid to protect passengers.

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“In light of the latest developments with the coronavirus outbreak in China, we are suspending the January 27 sailing of Spectrum of the Seas, currently our only ship homeported in China,” a spokesperson for the line said.

“We are working with our guests to provide full refunds for the cancellation.

Image result for world health organisation logo

“The health and safety of our guests and crew is our primary concern, and we continue to work with the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and government health authorities to monitor the situation.”

The spectrum of the Seas is scheduled to operate a mix of itineraries across the Far East until midway through 2021.

It is not known whether Royal will cancel more of Spectrum’s sailings beyond Monday due to the virus.

MSC Cruises said: “Due to urgent guidelines from the Chinese government to combat the spread of the coronavirus, MSC Cruises is required to cancel the upcoming cruise with MSC Splendida on 28 January.

“Guests booked on this cruise have the option to receive a full refund of their cruise ticket and port charges, or book an alternative sailing with an equivalent price and receiving additional onboard credit – with an embarkation date before the end of the year.

“At the time of writing, MSC Splendida is planned to remain in port for the duration of the cruise from 28 January until 1 February.

“We will continue to closely monitor the public health and safety situation in China and are consulting with international and local health authorities, as well as the ministry of transport of the People’s Republic of China, and strictly follow their advice and recommendations.

“Guests and travel partners have been informed and will be kept abreast of any further changes as the situation evolves.”

All transport hubs including airports, railway and bus stations, have been closed in the city of Wuhan and travel restrictions are in place in other cities in Hubei Province.

FCO advice states: “Public Health England has offered advice to travellers. You should comply with any additional screening measures put in place by the local authorities.

“For more information and advice, visit the TravelHealthPro website.”

In a further update today, the FCO said: “We are working to make available an option for British nationals to leave Hubei province. If you are a British national in Hubei Province and require assistance, please contact:

· our 24/7 number +86 (0) 10 8529 6600
· or the FCO (+44) (0)207 008 1500

“We continue to monitor developments closely and are in close touch with the Chinese authorities. The safety and security of British nationals is always our primary concern.”

Royal Caribbean ‘Out-Wowing’ Itself

Perfect Day at CoCoCay
Perfect Day at CocoCay

“We are going to keep pushing the envelope. At Royal Caribbean we are never satisfied with the status quo,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service.

“That is why, as we Royal Amplify an Oasis-class ship, people might say ‘Vicki, there was nothing wrong with it, why do you need more bells and whistles?’ But we do not build ships like cookie cutters. With the Oasis, Allure, Harmony and Symphony, we continued to innovate aboard each new ship in the class, while most cruise lines build identical ships after the first one in a class, just changing the decor,” she continued.

“Our chairman has always said ‘Do not think about cost, (instead) think about how we can make our product better and better.’ And if you push the cost aspect aside and are driven by what is going to be the best experience for the consumer, that does change how you think about your product.

“So we will keep pushing the envelope, with new features aboard our ships, a new class of ships, the Icon class, and enhancing Perfect Day at CocoCay and other islands in the Perfect Day Collection.

“Perfect Day at CocoCay is probably the most talked-about destination today,” Freed continued. “Of all the places we call around the world, this is our number one rated port of call, so it is definitely resonating with our guests.”

The island has turned out to be so popular, in fact, that on some itineraries ships call twice during the same cruise.

Royal Caribbean is also driving innovation elsewhere, its latest newbuilding, the Quantum Ultra-class, 158,000-ton, 4,100-passenger Spectrum of the Seas, introduced in 2019, is deployed in the Chinese market.

Royal Amplified
Royal Amplified
Also going to China in 2021 will be the next Oasis-class ship, the 227,626-ton, 5,448-passenger Wonder of the Seas.

Meanwhile, the Quantum-ultra class Odyssey of the Seas will be deployed in the North American market, launching service from Port Everglades in November, moving to the Mediterranean for the 2021 summer season.

In addition, the 2009-built Oasis of the Seas just underwent a $165 million renovation last fall.

“Even though the ship is only 10 years young,” Freed said, “we are adding some new features. We always want to out-wow ourselves.”

The Oasis is sailing seven-day Caribbean cruises from Miami this winter before moving to Cape Liberty for the summer season.

Added Freed: “She will be very popular in the Northeast market. Our guests will be able to get on an Oasis-class ship in their own backyard. They will also call at Perfect Day at CocoCay.”

Building a new port facility in Galveston, the port said it will be able to accommodate Oasis-class ships.

“Anytime we build brand-new facilities, we want to make sure that all our ships will fit into that facility,” Freed commented.

Freed continues to be as committed to travel agents as ever. And despite the changing industry, fewer retail storefronts, and the internet, she said that travel advisors are very important to cruise sales.

“Cruising is a complex product. You are talking about somebody’s vacation that they have worked hard for all year long, and we see the need for travel advisors becoming even more important, because people want to make sure they get it right.

“It is true they can go to the internet and find a lot of information, but at the end of the day, there can be too much information, and you get consumer confusion. That is when you need a professional who can guide you to make the right buying decision. You need someone who can be a valued interpreter.”

The new-to-cruise are asking for a shorter cruise experience, according to Freed. They are looking for a three-, four- or five-day getaway, which is a good way for them to test the waters and find out if cruising is right for them.

“This was one of the motivators that led us to flip the short-cruise market upside down. Instead of putting older hardware in the market, we put in the Royal Amplified (modernized) Navigator and Mariner of the Seas, ships that typically in the past would not have been in the short cruise market.

“Their next step may be a seven-day cruise on an Oasis-class ship. Or they can be millennials who prefer shorter vacations, but may repeat their short cruise three to four times a year.”

What are the basic selling points for Royal Caribbean? “There is so much I can say,” Freed answered, “but I like to sum it up in a few words: we are a combination of quality and energy.

“There are some beautiful quality brands out there – Celebrity is a quality brand, and then there are some lines that have energy, but nobody has the unique combination of Royal Caribbean.”

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Winter 2019-2020

Special Report: Cruise ships face emissions challenge

Image result for cruise ship smoke stacks

 

Shipping lines must comply with new global emissions controls. Ian Taylor reports

All ships over 400 tonnes became subject to International Maritime Organisation (IMO) limits on sulphur emissions from January 1.

These cut the permissible sulphur content in ship fuel outside designated emission control areas (ECAs) from 3.5% to 0.5%. The limit remains 0.1% in these control areas – the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, North American coastal waters and the ‘US Caribbean’.

The cruise industry accounts for just 1% of the shipping and 2% of global outbound travel but claims to be at the forefront of cutting emissions.

However, the shipping sector has moved painfully slowly. The January limit on emissions of sulphur oxide – a toxic by-product of heavy fuel oil – was agreed in 2008.

Cruise association Clia announced last year that its members were “well on the way to full compliance”.

However, the IMO warned of “price volatility” until “supply and demand find a balance” with the marine oil required to replace the heavy fuel oil commonly used by ships costing up to 50% more.

There are concerns about supply and about inconsistent enforcement, given the IMO limit is policed by ports and ‘flag states’ – the countries where ships are registered.

Broadly, there are three ways of complying – switching to marine fuel oil, investing in liquified natural gas (LNG) technology or installing exhaust cleaning systems.

There are serious issues with all three.

Switching to marine diesel cuts the sulphur content but the fuel still contains many times more pollutants than vehicle diesel. Ships must also beware of mixing fuels which can be unsafe.

Using LNG cuts sulphur emissions almost entirely and nitrogen oxide by 85%. Clia suggests 25 ships or about 12% of the global total could be using LNG by 2025. But the primary component of LNG is methane, an accelerant of global warming.

There are also limits to LNG infrastructure, with fuelling stations only slowly being established in Europe.

Exhaust cleaning systems or scrubbers enable ships to continue using heavy fuel oil by removing the sulphur – dissolving it in seawater which is returned to the ocean as sulphuric acid or held on the ship to be disposed of on land.

Royal Caribbean Cruises vice-chairman Adam Goldstein has said: “You inject tremendous amounts of water into the exhaust and it takes the sulphur away. That is our principal strategy.”

Clia reported in September that more than 68% of global capacity would utilise scrubbers. But China, Hong Kong, Singapore and some Caribbean islands have banned the release of water from scrubbers and there is a call for a worldwide ban.

Cruise lines also try to cut emissions in port by using shore-side power. But only 16 ports offer this – and only three outside North America.

Shipping sector leaders agreed in December to establish a $5 billion fund for research and development into cutting emissions, with the aim of developing zero-carbon emission ships by the 2030s.

Companies would make a $2 contribution for every tonne of marine fuel they purchase from 2023 if governments back the proposal at a meeting in London in March.