Coronavirus: impact on cruise sector. Status and expectations
by Theodore Kontes, President of Union of Cruise Ship Owners & Associated Members
Since a few short weeks ago when it was expected that cruise volumes would reach a record in 2020 including Eastern Med and Greece trading, with about 5.5m passengers and 3,840 calls in total, the pandemic Covid-19 crisis shut down completely the cruise industry worldwide including our area.
We have already suffered for about two months such a health pandemic disaster and more than 385 vessels have discontinued cruising and have found harbors or anchorage to lay up with several more (about 10) to continue at the last destination to disembark passengers, but also about 55 cruise liners are drifting or remain at low speed at sea waiting instructions.
In addition more than 80,000 crew members are still on board since there are no flights to repatriate them but also harbors do not accept them to enter for crew disembarkation.
In this respect big companies have made vessels available to collect their crew members and travel to their home destinations, mainly in the Asian region.
Most of the ports including European and specifically in Greece of course are closed and they are not accepting cruise vessels with passengers till at least the end of May but maybe extended further.
Cruise vessels at the moment laid up worldwide: within Europe about 125 (including Greece 12), in USA 146, Asia and Australia about 49 and the remainder are in short/slow trading, drifting the seas.
Eastern Med and Greece, one of the most attractive destinations in cruising make every effort to start the programs soonest but this is not quite easy since there are no flights, harbors are still closed and islands are shut down at least till end of June, with the Coronavirus limitations to be still in place even if Greece which has proven that it was the best European Country performing on this disaster.
Re-start is not an easy exercise since much needs to be made safe for passengers and crew, but before all is the need to operate flights, make the re-crewing, organize programs and prepare proper harbor infrastructures to be well equipped and manned in order to control embarking / disembarking pax and crew safely.
A program of re-start cruising in Greece is announced by various operators by end of June till mid-July but no one knows if a further lockdown period is reconfirmed. There are also companies already decided not to operate this season and others to restart by the end of the year for other destinations.
Based on the above concerns and making a possible estimate of the season this year we are expecting a reduction in calls as well as passengers with best possible scenario from 50 % up to 60 %.
Therefore this year we may expect about 1,500 calls only in all destinations and 3.2m guests including homeporting and transit in comparison with 2019 season.
We are not even taking into account here a complete closing down of the season, maybe a possibility if pandemic conditions continue further including at all destinations and countries of origin of passengers and crew.