MSC Cruises was due to homeport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with MSC Orchestra between November this year and April next year.
The week-long roundtrip cruises did not feature port calls in Israel, but acting out of an abundance of caution MSC Cruises has cancelled the itineraries as some of the destinations are very close to Israel and subject to European and North American travel warnings as a result of the conflict.
MSC was going to be sailing to ports of call in Egypt (Safaga and Sharm El-Sheikh), Saudi Arabia (Yanbu and Jeddah), and Jordan (Aqaba, for the iconic lost city of Petra).
The move by MSC Cruises will be a major blow to the Saudi Arabian cruise sector, which has seen massive growth since 2021, when the country first opened its ports to the cruise industry.
It’s unclear if MSC Cruises is considering cancelling the entirety of its Middle East cruise season at this time. Just a few days ago, the cruise line insisted it had no plans to modify cruise itineraries from Dubai, where two of its ships will homeport for the season.
However, following this latest move to pull out of Saudi Arabia, MSC said is closely monitoring the evolving situation in the Middle East and is prepared to modify itineraries if necessary.
Additional cruise itineraries have been cancelled by MSC in the Eastern Mediterranean. The winter program for MSC Sinfonia from November to April was cancelled as Haifa was a focus, the ship will instead be sailing to Genoa, Civitavecchia (Rome), Messina Piraeus, Izmir, Istanbul and Heraklion.
For passengers affected by these changes, MSC Cruises is offering two options: they can switch their cruise to another ship and itinerary of similar duration or request a full refund.
The geopolitical situation as a result of the Israel-Hamas conflict has led to travel restrictions by local authorities across the region, while some national governments have also issued advisories against travel to specific areas.
Hamas launched a cross-border raid on Israel on October 7th, killing 1,400 civilians and taking around 200 hostage. Israel has commenced an intensive air strike campaign on Gaza in retaliation, killing more than 6,000 civilians, almost half of whom are children.
The situation has enraged the public throughout the Arab world and stoked geopolitical tensions as several Iranian proxy organisations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen have vowed their own retaliation on Israel and Western interests.
The US Department of State has issued a worldwide travel alert. “Due to increased tensions in various locations around the world, the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” it said.
MSC Cruises is the first major cruise line to cancel voyages on the Arabian Peninsula after Windstar earlier this month cancelled its Arabian Gulf cruise season out of Dubai aboard Star Legend.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, Royal Caribbean pulled Rhapsody of the Seas out of Haifa, Isreal, cancelling the remainder of its 2023 season, while several other cruise lines have adjusted itineraries to steer clear of the region.