Cruises: cancelled
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  • MSC Cruises, the largest privately-owned operator of cruise ships in the world, has officially given up trying to finish its South African sailing season.
  • It now only plans to put passengers on ships in South Africa by November, at the earliest.
  • Cruise ships – and night clubs – have been consistently banned under lockdown rules, even as other restrictions came and went.
  • MSC thought it had convinced the government, in December, to let it out of harbour. But it says it can't wait any longer. 
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The largest privately-owned cruise ship company in the world, MSC Cruises, has given up on any more sailing in South Africa until at least November.

Passengers who had been due to board its ships before then are being offered vouchers for the next sailing season, which runs until April 2022.

While other lockdown restrictions have come and gone (and, in cases such as the alcohol ban, come and gone a second time), night clubs and cruise ships have remained consistently banned under South African rules.

In November a ban on passenger ships entering South African harbours was adjusted to allow small craft, while large cruise ships remained explicitly prohibited from operating.

MSC said it had been working with South African authorities since March 2020 on coronavirus safety protocols. After an inspection in late December, it believed it had satisfied various departments and regulators that it could operate safely, but a month and a half later it is still waiting for approval to sail.

See also | Here’s what MSC Cruises’ new R200 million terminal in Durban will look like

Now it can wait no longer, it said, and it had made the "difficult decision" to shut down until next summer.

At the end of 2021, MSC plans to have two ships in South Africa, the MSC Lirica sailing out of Cape Town, and the MSC Musica out of Durban. Between them the ships can carry more than 5,500 guest at a time, with two-night cruises starting at about R3,500 per person.

The company had been ramping up its capacity in South Africa in recent years, due to what it described as fast-growing demand.

MSC is also the lead investor in a R200 million development of a passenger terminal in the Durban harbour.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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