SA cruises set sail from November – but not all ships agree on mandatory vaccines

Business Insider SA
Cruise ship South Africa
(Getty Images)
  • Cruise liners have been missing from South African waters for more than a year, despite Cape Town and Durban recently upgrading their terminals to entice passenger ships.
  • But at least two major cruise liners are expected to return to South Africa in November and December.
  • One says it will allow both vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers on board.
  • The other has a policy in place which allows only fully vaccinated passengers to cruise.
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After a lengthy pandemic-induced absence from South African waters, international cruise liners are expected to return in November, just in time for the summer season. But before setting sail, ships need to clarify their position on unvaccinated passengers.

South Africa's cruise industry was reaching new heights before the global swell of Covid-19 and associated travel restrictions halted passenger ships. In 2012, some 6,000 passengers arrived in Cape Town. This grew to more than 50,000 passengers by 2018, with a dedicated cruise terminal at the V&A Waterfront providing a significant boost to the city's tourism sector.

Construction on a new Cruise Terminal Facility in the Port of Durban – worth around R200 million – started just six months before South Africa was plunged into hard lockdown.

The world's largest cruise company, Carnival, lost more than $10 billion (R145 billion) in 2020. This year hasn't been much kinder, with MSC Cruises – dominant in the local market – cancelling its plans for the 2020/21 season in February.

"We remain actively engaged with all the relevant government departments and we look forward to receiving go-ahead to restart soon," Ross Volk, the managing director of MSC Cruises South Africa, told Business Insider SA.

"We've seen that South Africans are eager to travel based on the strong advance trends. This is also evidenced by the spike in guest demand as we've introduced exciting promotions with our early booking special offers."

South Africa's lockdown restrictions have effectively banned the cruise liner operations. Even at its most relaxed, Alert Level 1, lockdown specifically prohibits "passenger ships for international leisure purposes".

Despite the ongoing ban, MSC seems confident that it will sail again in November. The liner’s MSC Musica is scheduled to sail from Durban to Pomene Bay in Mozambique – as part of a four-night cruise – on 18 November.

"So, we are awaiting more clarity on that point [lockdown regulations], but at the moment there are still international cruising brands planning to cruise our shores from December 2021," Jane Davidson, director at Development Promotions, which works with leading cruise companies, told Business Insider SA.

"Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Jade is scheduled to arrive in South Africa on 21 December 2021 from Dubai, and then sail three round trips, 12 night cruises from Cape Town along the South African coastline until the 26th of Jan 2022 when she will return to Dubai visiting Reunion, Mauritius and Seychelles along the way."

And before South African passengers board these cruises, they're urged to make themselves familiar with health and safety policies – including potential mandatory vaccination – which are still being developed.

Some cruise liners have already opted for a controversial two-class system – one for vaccinated passengers and the other for those unvaccinated – which limits interactions between those on board. Royal Caribbean's 4,275-passenger Freedom of the Seas is one such ship, which allows fully vaccinated passengers – identified by a wristband – to enjoy all facilities onboard, while unvaccinated passengers are barred from entering the sushi bar, casino, or spa, according to a Bloomberg report.

Other ships, like those operated by Norwegian Cruise Line, have a strict policy of only allowing fully vaccinated passengers – and staff – to be onboard.

"Whilst each cruise lines have different policies, at the moment most cruise lines, like Oceania Cruises and Holland America Line are planning to sail with fully vaccinated crews and passengers only, for now," said Davidson.

"These rules might also change later on. For instance, Norwegian Cruise Line has put in this rule until the 31 October 2021. It will however be extended or updated after that as the situation develops."

MSC Cruises will adopt a different approach when returning to South African seas, one which puts more emphasis on testing than on vaccines.

"In the short to medium term MSC Cruises is prepared for the hybrid situation of safely transporting vaccinated and unvaccinated guests with the support of our rigorous universal testing procedures and other measures under our industry leading protocol," said Volk.

"We believe that vaccination should co-exist with testing systems and other health and safety measures and should be seen as an advanced extension of responsible travel."

All passengers boarding the MSC Musica in November "will still have to have antigen swab tests prior to embarkation." An extra layer of testing will apply to unvaccinated passengers, who will be required to undertake an RT-PCR COVID-19 test 72 hours before they arrive at the cruise terminal.

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