MSC Cruises appears to be planning to go ahead with its South African cruise itineraries, despite the travel bans on South Africa due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
MSC Cruises’ ship MSC Orchestra appears to still be scheduled to homeport in Durban, sailing roundtrip in the Indian Ocean between December, 2021 and April, 2022.
At the time of writing, MSC Orchestra was cruising up the South African Wild Coast between Cape Town and Durban. She is scheduled to arrive in Durban on December 2nd, and sail her first cruise of the season on December 6th.
According to her AIS data, her last port of call was Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s Canary Islands off northwestern Africa on November 17th.
Although MSC Orchestra was brought back into service for a Mediterranean cruise season in July this year, her repositioning cruise from Europe to South Africa was not sold as a normal passenger voyage, meaning she does not have Europeans onboard that cannot get home.
After South Africa announced the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant, which the World Health Organization has named Omicron, dozens of countries around the world began imposing outright travel bans on anyone coming from South Africa, or strict quarantine rules for returning residents.
The development has thrown the South African tourism industry into disarray and left a major question mark over upcoming South African cruise itineraries that either sail from Cape Town, or call at any South African ports.
MSC Cruises, however, does not rely on fly-cruise passengers for its South African itineraries, instead, the majority of bookings are from the local source market.
The cruise line will likely therefore be able to sail its scheduled season out of Durban, but may be forced to amend itineraries if Mozambique imposes a ban on tourists from South Africa (the principle cruise destinations on MSC’s South African itineraries – Pomene and Portuguese Island – are on the Mozambiquan coast).
South Africa has already moved to tighten cruise safety rules amid the emergence of the new variant, detailing strict guidelines that cruise lines need to follow, while MSC Cruises has put in place its own health and safety measures to combat the spread of COVID aboard its ships.
Across the fleet, passengers are required to be fully vaccinated, and will be screened for COVID-19 before, during and after the cruise. Masks will be required in some indoors spaces and social distancing will be enforced during the cruise, according to the MSC website.
MSC Cruises has not yet commented on the emergence of the Omicron variant or how it might affect its South African cruise season out of Durban. Cruise Arabia & Africa has reached out to the line for comment and will update this article if we hear back from them.
Editor’s note: MSC Cruises has since confirmed that it’s South African season has not been impacted by Omicron and will go ahead as planned.