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The cruise industry faces a weekend like no other, with calls from Senators and government officials to suspend operations, ports turning away vessels, and a market position that has seen the industry leader lose as much as $24 billion of its market valuation since January.
So far, numerous cruise lines have suspended operations temporarily, many in the past 24 hours: Viking Cruises, Princess Cruises, Aida Cruises, Costa Cruises, Fred Olson, Disney Cruises, AMA River Cruises, Avalon Waterways, Celestyal Cruises, Saga Cruises, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.
MSC has also cancelled some cruises, but not suspended all operations. Richard Branson’s Virgin Cruises also announced it would suspend the inaugural season of its Scarlett Lady — which had its splashy media launch just three weeks ago — until mid-July.
After publication of this story, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean on Friday announced they would also suspend voyages. Both cruise lines were reached for comment before the announcement and the publication of this story, but did not respond. Royal Caribbean’s statement said its decision only applied to U.S. voyages.
— Tom Lowry (@lowrytom) March 12, 2020
Princess, Costa, and Aida are owned by Carnival Corp., the largest cruise company in the world, which has nine brands. Princess Cruises, which halted operations for 60 days on Thursday, has been under particular scrutiny because two of its ships have been at the epicenter of the crisis. It’s hard to imagine Carnival Corp. weathering another outbreak and still managing to say its ships are safe.
As the Washington Post reporting, senior U.S. health officials and members of the White House’s coronavirus task force are keen on a plan to temporarily ban all Americans from going on cruises. This is due to the perceived elevated risk that the disease can spread and the fact that the government has spent considerable resources doing logistical cleanup on ships where outbreaks have occurred. On the other hand, the President, who is a longtime friend of Carnival Chairman Micky Arison, has indicated a willingness to provide financial support to the industry — despite the fact that none of the major cruise lines are domiciled as American companies for tax purposes.
The world’s third-largest cruise company, Norwegian Cruise Lines, is also under fire. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey sent a letter to CEO Frank Del Rio asking that he stop lying to customers and suspend all operations until sufficient safety measures are put in place. The letter came after a report from the Miami New Times surfaced that Norwegian sales repped were encouraged by the company to lie to consumers and downplay the risk of coronavirus.
Both the UK and the U.S. have advised over 70s and those with underlying health conditions to avoid cruises. Canada has banned all cruise traffic on ships carrying more than 500 passengers through June, and Singapore has also instituted a ban. Various ports in the Caribbean and in the U.S. are also refusing to accept vessels due to the perceived risk.
Skift reached out to Carnival Corp. to respond to the call to suspend all cruises and will update this post if they respond.
After cruise industry officials met with the Trump administration officials earlier this week, the industry is waiting for the White House to approve a raft of new measures to make cruising safer in the short term. When reached by Skift yesterday and asked about the status of the proposal and when it would be made public, a spokesperson for the lobby group CLIA said the Vice President Mike Pence and the taskforce are still considering the proposal.
“What I can say now is that we are proud of the plan as submitted, which focuses on prevention, detection, and care—and further demonstrates the cruise industry’s commitment to public health and safety and its willingness to go above and beyond to address the challenge facing our global community.”
The stocks of the three major companies are being shredded in the markets. Carnival Corp.’s stock had fallen 70 percent from the beginning of the year at Thursday’s close. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian had fallen 77 and 83 percent, respectively.
With the situation changing by the hour, it’s unclear if any cruise lines will be sailing come Monday.
UPDATED: This story was updated with news of Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean’s suspension.