Cruises given green light if companies agree to pay for Covid outbreak repatriations

Charles Hymas
·2-min read
P&O Cruises has cancelled sailings until at least April -  Gareth Fuller/ PA
P&O Cruises has cancelled sailings until at least April - Gareth Fuller/ PA
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

The Government has given cruises the green light to restart once companies agree to pick up the bill if passengers have to be repatriated because of a Covid outbreak.

The cruise industry has been in suspended animation since July, when the Foreign Office issued blanket advice against all cruise ship travel following a string of Covid outbreaks around the world.

The advice has made it impossible for travellers to get holiday insurance and effectively halted a sector which the industry estimates to be worth almost £10 billion to the UK economy.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said the cruise sector had worked "very, very hard" to guarantee Covid-secure travel but added that, for the final clearance, the Government wanted reassurance that it would pick up the cost of repatriation.

The Foreign Office had to spend around £6 million flying hundreds of passengers stranded after cruise ships were hit by Covid outbreaks, trapping many in quarantine on the quayside.

"Provided that [the agreement on repatriation] is case, this green lights cruises as long as they are Covid secure and using all the tests," said Mr Shapps.

In a joint statement, the Cruise Lines International Association and the UK Chamber of Shipping welcomed the Government taskforce's report on kick-starting travel and commitment to restarting cruising but said there was still "no certainty" over when it could happen.

"The Government must now set a timeline to safely start domestic cruises in early 2021, and international cruises to destinations for which travel corridors are open from spring 2021," it said. "As the Government rightly acknowledges, the industry needs this clarity and confidence to start planning for operational restart of cruise ships, which can take up to three months."

The problems have been highlighted by P&O Cruises, which has cancelled sailings until at least April. The company, owned by FTSE 100 operator Carnival, blamed "ever-changing guidance around international travel" and differing regulations across European ports.

The cancellation means that P&O will have been out of action for more than a year. Its last cruise set sail in March.