Vaccine to board cruise ship in South Africa
MSC Orchestra (Image: MSC Cruises)
  • MSC Cruises will return to South Africa on 6 December but is still finalising health and safety protocols.
  • The 1,275-cabin MSC Orchestra “currently plans to welcome” both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests aboard, unless told otherwise by the South African government.
  • Unvaccinated guests over the age of 18 will need to take an antigen lateral flow test at a cost of R300 per person.
  • All guests, regardless of their vaccination status, need to present a negative PCR test result and have a Covid-19 insurance policy.
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The MSC Orchestra will return to South African waters on 6 December, after a prolonged hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic and associated travel restrictions.

Passenger ships have been given the green light to operate across South Africa’s seaports under Adjusted Alert Level 1 lockdown. This sees the return of an industry which was booming prior to lockdown and is another step towards pre-pandemic normal for South Africa’s troubled tourism sector.

MSC Cruises, the popular liner which had initially hoped to return to South Africa in November, says it will now set sail on 6 December. The 1,275-cabin MSC Musica, which was planned to service South African ports after the pandemic, has been replaced by the refurbished MSC Orchestra.

The MSC Orchestra has the same number of cabins and can accommodate as many passengers as the MSC Musica. The Orchestra features a spa with Turkish baths, fully equipped sports centre, casino, bars, and restaurants. The cruise liner comes to South Africa after stints in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

The MSC Orchestra will call Cape Town and Durban home throughout the summer season, offering two, three, four and seven-night voyages until 11 May 2022. The ship will undertake 41 cruises throughout the season.

The change from MSC Musica to MSC Orchestra has, however, disrupted the cruise company’s online booking system. The itinerary has not been updated, and those wanting to book aboard South African cruises have been met with the message “no results found according to your search criteria, please try again.”

“MSC Cruises is aware that the 2021/22 updated itineraries are not available,” MSC told Business Insider South Africa on Thursday, indicating that MSC Musica bookings were in the process of being migrated.

“This is a result of the ship change which has affected the schedule. This is currently being attended by our head office in Geneva.”

“We have worked co-operatively since last year with all of the relevant authorities, ports and destinations to demonstrate that our new health and safety protocol can ensure the wellbeing of guests, our crew and the communities that MSC Orchestra will visit during the season,” said Ross Volk, the managing director of MSC Cruises South Africa.

“We now look forward to receive details of the health and safety guidelines that will allow us to finalise our protocol for the start of our sailing programme.”

And while MSC is busy putting the finishing touches on its health and safety protocols, it has already decided to allow both vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers onboard. This may change if the South African government issues a mandatory vaccination policy.

Most cruise liners have adopted a firmer approach. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) is also set to return to South Africa in December with the Norwegian Jade. NCL’s health and safety programme requires all passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. This applies to all cruises for the rest of the year, with potential changes to the vaccination mandate in 2022.

Azamara, which has a South African voyage planned for January 2022, requires all guests to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before sailing as part of its Explore Well at Sea programme.

Unvaccinated guests will be able to board the MSC Orchestra, but they’ll need to “undergo an antigen lateral flow test at the embarkation port” at a cost of R300 per person. This doesn’t apply to those under the age of 18.

All guests, whether vaccinated or not, will need to present a negative Covid-19 RT-PCR test within 72 hours of their cruise departure and “have an insurance policy to cover Covid-19 related issues.” This covers cancellation, interruption, repatriation, quarantine and medical assistance, and related expenses.

Passenger health screenings at terminals include temperature checks and a completion of a health questionnaire.

“Additional health and safety measures include extended sanitation on board and the wearing of face masks in indoor public areas or where social distancing cannot be guaranteed,” noted the statement on MSC’s return.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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