MSC suspends cruises as passengers locked down on liner amid Covid fears

The MSC Orchestra at the new Passenger Terminal in Durban Harbour before it departed on a cruise this week.

The MSC Orchestra at the new Passenger Terminal in Durban Harbour before it departed on a cruise this week.

Published Dec 10, 2021


MSC Cruises has temporarily suspended all domestic cruises in South Africa until January 9 next year.

The luxury cruise liner made the announcement on Friday night, saying the temporary suspension was dedicated by health and safety protocol ”in connection with the most recent and sudden evolution, particularly in the past week of the pandemic ashore in the country”.

This was as passengers on board the cruise liner MSC Orchestra, which docked in Durban on Friday, expressed concern over being kept on board amid fears of Covid infection.

On Friday two passengers spoke to the Independent on Saturday about their frustration at being kept on board, while their passports were taken away.

Both passengers wished to remain anonymous for fear of backlash, but said very little information about the situation on board was being relayed to passengers.

The first passenger said all passengers had been tested for Covid as they arrived back in Durban, with some passengers being allowed to leave the liner. He said it appeared as though the remaining passengers had tested positive for Covid.

“About 100 passengers are still on board, but they (MSC staff) are not keeping us informed," he said.

Before leaving on the cruise last Monday, all passengers had to have a PCR test and show proof of vaccination.

"We have had the same food this evening, which we had a lunch time.” said the passenger on Friday evening, adding that their passports had been taken away and that the stairs at the entrance to the vessel had been removed.

Another passenger said, “I’m so frustrated, they are not saying anything to us, they are not informing us about what is going on. All day we have been waiting for authorities and nobody knows what going to happen next.

“Late yesterday (Thursday), we received a circular pushed under the doors of the cabins which said we were going to be tested. We were tested this morning.

“I came with a relative and I don’t know what to say to my family about what’s happening,” she said.

On Friday night, MSC Cruises issued a statement in which Ross Volk, Managing Director, MSC Cruises South Africa confirmed that all passengers were tested on board prior to disembarkation and that all passengers were South African.

“A number of completely asymptomatic guests tested positive during today’s testing procedure upon arrival and they are currently awaiting disembarkation for their safe return home.”

He said while some passengers had disembarked, others will do so on Saturday “in full co-ordination and under the guidance of health authorities,” said Volk.

He added that the decision to suspend all South African sailings “will lead to the cancellation of all sailings of MSC Orchestra from the port of Durban and all booked guests will receive a voucher for a voyage later in the season at their convenience or a refund.

“We made this voluntary decision in an abundance of caution towards our guests, our crew and the communities that MSC Orchestra was scheduled to visit in the coming weeks. This is what our health and safety protocol is designed to do, in accordance with the evolution of the pandemic ashore and to ensure the utmost protection to our guests and crew.

“In light of the most recent evolution of the Covid-19 pandemic across South Africa, we have been in consultation with the government’s Department of Health which is working hard to understand the most up-to-date data of the virus and as health and safety is our number one priority our protocol clearly called for a temporary suspension of our forthcoming sailings with immediate effect.

”We understand that our decision will be very disappointing to those guests that will have their voyages cancelled but I hope that they will understand that it was made with their wellbeing in mind, as the health and safety of our guests, crew and communities we visit is our number one priority,” said Volk.

He confirmed MSC Orchestra will resume her cruise sailings on 9 January, 2022.

The Independent on Saturday