In some ways, this has felt inevitable. The cruise line at the center of the coronavirus crisis is temporarily ceasing operations. The question is whether this decision will be the first domino to fall.
Princess Cruises, owned by Carnival Corp., announced it will voluntarily suspend operations for 60 days on Thursday morning.
The decision comes as the cruise line — which operates 18 cruise ships — has become the unfortunate poster child of the coronavirus crisis on the high seas. Two of its ships, the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess, have bred outbreaks Covid-19, with the former resulting in roughly 700 cases and several deaths, and the latter resulting in a halted journey and evacuation earlier this week, with more than 20 cases.
Princess Cruises President Jan Swartz made an address posted on YouTube, saying never in the company’s history “have we been tested in the ways we’ve been tested in the past 40 days. We have battled this virus on two continents always with the mission of doing the right thing.”
On the question of why this cruise line in particular has appeared to be the most affected by the virus, Swartz said, “We don’t really know.” She later pontificated: “Perhaps the diverse mix of people on board our ships is reflecting what’s going in communities around the world.”
Critics have said otherwise, pointing to Princess Cruises history with infectious outbreaks of norovirus and other pathogens, as well as the industry’s overall regulatory framework which has long been subject to claims of lax health and safety standards.
Carnival Corp. stock halted trading before the announcement, and was down 20 percent in pre-market trading on Thursday. Since the beginning of the year, shares have fallen by 57 percent.
The decision will affect cruises departing from today, until May 10. Princess said all cruises in progress which are scheduled to end in the next five days will complete their itinerary. Voyages that extend beyond March 17 will end their journey early. Affected guests will be able to transfer 100 percent of the money spent to a future cruise, but they will not be entitled to no-questions-asked refunds.
“Princess will do everything possible to return each guest home with the greatest amount of care possible,” the statement read. “During this time, our operations and medical teams across the fleet will remain vigilant in their care and service for guests and crew onboard.”
The cruise line added that it will honor commissions earned by travel advisors for bookings on cancelled cruises that were paid in full “in recognition of the critical role they play in the cruise line’s business and success.”
The cruise sector met with government officials from the Trump administration on Wednesday. It is expected that the White House will soon approve a proposal of new measures for cruise lines still operating — including a doctor’s note requirement for passengers over 70. There have also been rumors of financial assistance for the beleaguered industry.
A few hours before Princess’ announcement, Viking Cruises similarly announced it would suspend operations for two months. Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean, the second largest cruise line, was down 23 percent in pre-market trading on Thursday. Norwegian Cruise Lines was down 30 percent.
This breaking story has been updated.
Photo credit: Princess Cruises, owned by Carnival Corp., is at the center of the coronavirus fallout. Joe Cavaretta / Associated Press