MSC Cruises chairman defends COVID outbreaks, calls out media bias

At a cruise industry event in Miami, MSC Cruises indirectly referenced isolated COVID-19 outbreaks affecting cruise ships during the restart, and subtly called out media bias.

During a panel at the State of the Industry event, Pierfrancesco Vago, Chairman of MSC Cruises, said that operating cruise ships amid the ongoing pandemic is “very, very complex”.

Pierfrancesco Vago, Chairman of MSC Cruises

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His comments came just days after one of MSC Cruises’ ships, MSC Virtuosa, was beset with a number of COVID-19 cases during a handful of cruises at the tail-end of its UK cruise season this summer.

“The complexity of how to bring [safety protocols] and actually offer safe sailings to our customers is incredible,” he said at Seatrade Cruise Global’s annual ‘State of the Industry’ panel in Miami.

“We’re talking about crossing borders, we’re talking about health authorities having different approaches or different visions,” he said. “With the vaccine, hopefully, some of these problems will go away, but that’s where we are today.”

MSC Cruises was one of the first cruise lines to return to service last year, and carried tens of thousands of cruise passengers in the second half of 2020 without incident thanks to some of the strictest COVID-19 protocols in the travel industry.

In mid-September, however, a handful of cases of COVID-19 were reported by passengers aboard MSC Virtuosa sailing roundtrip from the UK. A tally by Cruise Law News puts the total number at more than 75, but MSC Cruises has not confirmed the exact number.

If confirmed, the cases aboard MSC Virtuosa would be the first widespread outbreak on any cruise ship since cruises resumed in late 2020. There have been dozens of isolated cases on ships during the last 12 months, but none of them of the same scale as that aboard MSC Virtuosa.

MSC Cruises was the first cruise line to resume cruises in the UK with MSC Virtuosa amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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Cases of COVID-19 aboard cruise ships are generally covered extensively in the media, and some cruise lines have been more forthcoming than others in their acknowledgement of such cases.

Vago suggested the media can be selective in its reporting on the cruise industry.

“[Cruise ships] attract attention all the time – for the good reasons and the bad,” he said. “Unfortunately, you can have a person jump from the third floor of any hotel to the parking lot, and you won’t even find it in the news. If you do it from a ship, you’ll be on the front (page) of CNN or CNBC.”

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