The toll that COVID-19 has taken on the global cruise industry is apparent in the record number of cruise ships that have been sold for scrap in the last three years, with 35 cruise ships sent to breakers’ yards since 2020.
Carnival Cruise Line, the largest cruise company in the world, led the trend in 2020 when it confirmed that a total of 18 cruise ships would be sold from its fleet, many of them ultimately doomed for scrapping.
In 2020, a total of 9 cruise ships were scrapped, followed by 11 in 2021, with 15 due to be scrapped in 2022. That compares to just one ship that was scrapped in 2019.
Cruise lines began selling off their fleets early on in the pandemic, when it became apparent that the cruise industry was going to be one of the hardest hit due to the way in which the virus spreads, and a patchwork of travel restrictions that were put in place globally.
In March, all the world’s major cruise lines suspended operations and cruise ships being moored offshore, unable to dock, became an early symbol of the coronavirus’s global spread.
Images of passengers confined aboard Diamond Princess in Yokohama, Japan after a COVID-19 outbreak onboard further reinforced the perception that cruise ships are more susceptible to the spread of the virus than other forms of travel.
Facing an extended shutdown and haemorrhaging huge amounts of money, several cruise lines began to declare bankruptcy in 2020, Cruise & Maritime Voyages was the first major line to liquidate, then the Spanish cruise line Pullmantur.
In 2021, Hong Kong-based Genting (owner of Star Cruises, Dream Cruises and Crystal Cruises) declared bankruptcy after more than a year of deteriorating finances.
In August 2020, the world’s three largest cruise lines (Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings) were burning through more than a billion dollars per month.
The untenable situation forced Carnival Corporation to sell 18 cruise ships across its 9 cruise line brands to bring down costs, while Royal Caribbean let go of 7 ships across its Royal Caribbean International and Azamara brands.
Many of these cruise ships were sold for scrap, but are only reaching the breakers yard this year.
The ships due to be scrapped in 2022 are:
Fuji (former Fuji Maru)
Century Harmony (former Carnival Fascination)
Oriental Dragon (originally Song of Norway)
Delphin (originally Byelorussiya)
Titan (former Gruziya/Salamis Filoxenia)
SuperStar Libra (former Norwegian Sea)
Odin (former Black Watch/Royal Viking Star)
Marella Dream (former Homeric/Westerdam)
Pearl II (former Saga Pearl II/Astor)
Golden Iris (former Cunard Princess/Rhapsody)
Marella Celebration (former Noordam)
TSM Singapore (former Zenith)
Although it did immense damage then, COVID-19 has not proved to be an existential threat for the industry. In late 2021, the industry returned to sea in gathering numbers, and by 2022, bookings had surged to pre-pandemic levels.
The industry has taken on huge amounts of debt though, the three major listed cruise companies — which between them control four-fifths of the industry — have all more than doubled their gross debt over the past two years, according to The Financial Times.
However, the 35 cruise ships that have been scrapped since 2020 all represent the oldest ships in the fleet, making all the cruise lines more efficient as the remaining tonnage is more modern, carries more passengers and offers more attractions and onboard features.