First Scheduled International Cruise Port Call Since COVID-19 Shutdown

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MSC Cruises MSC Grandiosa became the first cruise ship to arrive in a foreign port of call with its scheduled call today at the island of Malta on its first 7-day cruise since the coronavirus pandemic shutdown. Scheduled for a 10-hour port visit, it would be the latest milestone for the cruise industry.

“We are excited to be welcoming MSC Grandiosa back to Valletta. The safety and well-being of guests, personnel and the local community is our upmost priority,” said Stephen Xuereb, CEO of Valletta Cruise Port and COO of Global Ports Holding Plc. “In the last months together with the local health and tourism authorities and the cruise lines, we have been busy working on protocols that ensure a safe, secure and seamless experience for our guests.”

The MSC Grandiosa departed last Sunday, August 16, on the first cruise from Italy since the pandemic. The ship is observing strict health protocols, pre-screening passengers before boarding the ship, and limiting capacity on a ship with 2,400 cabins and accommodations for between 4,800 and 6,334 passengers to a maximum of 70 percent. They are also limiting the ports to Italian cities and the one day stop at Malta. To further maintain the safety protocols, passengers are asked to maintain social distancing on board and they are only permitted to go ashore on MSC-sponsored excursions.

With the eyes of the entire cruise industry on the MSC Grandiosa this week, MSC has been seeking to prove that cruising can operate safety in a controlled environment. Indeed the company confirmed reports that on Tuesday they denied a family that was sailing on the cruise the right to reboard the ship in Naples. The family reportedly wandered away from the organized shore excursion violating MSC’s restrictions. The company reported that it took the step for the safety of the passengers and crew as they could not confirm that the family had remained in the controlled environment limiting exposure onshore.

The Valletta Cruise Port in Malta officially re-opened on July 1 as the island national heralded its success in controlling the virus. However, no cruise ships had been in the port since March prior to today’s scheduled arrival of the MSC Grandiosa. According to reports from the local media outlet Malta Winds, approximated 400 passengers of the more than 1,300 on the cruise were expected to go on MSC’s controlled Malta excursions.

At the time Malta re-opened its port, they highlighted that the country had nearly eliminated the virus and suffered less than 700 cases in total. In the past few weeks, however, the island has seen a resurgence in cases. As of last week, Malta’s cases had jumped to over 1,500 prompting the government to order nightclubs to close, restrict groups from gathering, and mandate masks indoors in public places. The media is also reporting that travelers to Malta returning to the European mainland are now being required to test for COVID-19 or quarantine. Some nations also recently warned against travel to Malta.

MSC Cruises currently has announced weekly sailings for the MSC Grandiosa through the end of October. At the end of August, the MSC Magnifica is also due to start weekly cruises from Bari and Trieste in Italy to ports in Greece.

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