Cordelia Cruises’ new ship Empress has sailed from Mumbai for the first time, marking the first passenger voyage for Cordelia Cruises, which launched last year amid the pandemic.
Cordelia Cruises is a new Indian cruise line that replaces Jalesh Cruises, which was forced into bankruptcy last year by the COVID-19 pandemic, Empress is its first cruise ship.
Cordelia Cruises purchased Empress from Royal Caribbean, which operated the vessel as Empress of the Seas.
Her first cruise from Mumbai was a 2-night roundtrip ‘cruise to nowhere’, with the ship fully booked with 1,600 passengers, despite the ongoing pandemic.
Jurgen Bailom, CEO and president of Waterways Leisure Tourism Private Limited, which owns Cordelia Cruises, said this was because the design of the ship lends itself to social distancing.
“We do have social distancing, the way we check in our guests … (it’s) staggered, they come by deck and cabin,” he said.
“So, every half an hour, there’s another category going onboard. We have all the measures in place. But, because of the way a ship operates, never – even pre-COVID – will you have 2,000 people doing the same thing,” he said.
“Some people are seeing the show, some people are eating, some people are in different lounges, some people are doing something else,” Bailom added. “Even when you have 2,000 guests, there are never more than 100 or 200 people in one place. (And these places are) large,” he explained.
The CDC in the US and the ECDC in Europe both require cruise ships to resume services with reduced capacity due to the increased risk of COVID-19 infection in close spaces, but as Empress is sailing with an all-Indian crew, and carrying only Indian guests, she is only subject to local regulations.
All crew are fully vaccinated, and all passengers are required to take a PCR test prior to departure, according to the cruise line.
Bailom said that there is huge pent-up demand for cruises from the local market.
“We started bookings very well for sure. The demand has been very good,” he said. “The wedding season is in very high demand. The first two sailings are fully booked – fully chartered for events and weddings.”
Around 200,000 Indian passengers go abroad for cruising each year, so Bailom feels creating demand will not be an issue for Cordelia.
“We believe that India has a huge potential. Given the fact that cruising is growing up to 15 percent a year here and India having the third largest coastline in the world with 7,600 kilometers, it made automatic sense that India deserved its own cruise line,” he said.
Cordelia is planning to add a second cruise ship to its fleet by August, 2022, and by 2025 wants to have between four and six ships in operations.
The first itineraries for Empress focus on India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, but Bailom said the cruise line also wants to sail further abroad, especially to the Middle East.
“Obviously, we want to take (guests) abroad from India. There’s a lot of beautiful areas close by, which we could explore – we could go somewhere else in Asia, we could go to the Middle East … My dream, personally, would be taking Indians all over Europe,” Bailom said.