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Viking Cruises have cancelled all voyages for the rest of 2020 as the cruise industry continues to find its restart a challenge.
The Switzerland-based operator was the first to suspend all operations in March as coronavirus rapidly spread around the world, and it became an industry-wide halt. A number lines have resumed sailing – mainly in Europe – but the vast number are still not welcoming passengers.
Viking’s chairman, Torstein Hagen, said that when his company chose to pause he “would not have imagined that in August we would still not be sailing.”
“Every day I am encouraged by the scientific advancements toward Covid-19 therapeutics and a vaccine. But as you well know, recent events have shown us that the recovery from this pandemic will be sporadic, and the ability to travel freely across borders remains some time away. As keen as we may be to get back to exploring, for now, international travel must wait.”
He added: “We are a private, closely-held company, which means we do not have to rush the decision to return to service.”
Customers booked on affected cruises can choose to receive either a ‘future cruise voucher’ of 125 per cent of money already paid to Viking, or a refund (for the latter customers must contact Viking by August 24).
The decision to drop 2020 itineraries represents a sharp turnaround for the cruise line, which in June had teased those hoping to get back on the water by admitting it was exploring whether it could sail round-Britain cruises this summer.
At the time they said it could be “a wonderful opportunity to explore some beautiful destinations close to home”.
It may not come as a surprise to keen cruisers, however, as shortly after Viking’s announcement the industry was dealt a blow with updated travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that effectively banned sea-going cruises for British nationals.
A number of lines that previously restarted operations have seen cases of coronavirus onboard this month, which may have shaken Viking’s confidence (Hagen said “we will only sail again when it is safe to do so”), but other than the Hurtigruten outbreak each operator has managed to avoid any spread – and one of the lines, UnCruise, may have turned back due to a false positive test.
Viking, which last week celebrated its 23rd anniversary, joins a handful of other companies that are no longer welcoming passengers in 2020, including Celestyal Cruises, Victory Cruise Line and Crystal Cruises.
On Monday, British line P&O Cruises pushed back their restart date for a third time, until November 12. It has previously hoped to be back sailing in August and then October.
With 2020 now written off, the Viking boss is bullish about the future.
“We believe that our smaller ships – which feature spacious public areas and staterooms – provide a much safer environment than mega liners", said Hagen.
“We have always had the highest standards for health and cleanliness—and we are currently finalising additional protocols to make Viking safer, in cooperation with leading international experts. We will be sharing more information about this very soon.”
The operator’s seventh ocean ship, Viking Venus, is scheduled to join the fleet next year, as well as Viking Saigon, a new vessel on the Mekong in South-east Asia. Further arrivals are planned for 2022, including expedition vessels, Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, an eighth ocean ship, Viking Mars, and launch the line’s first ship on an American river, Viking Mississippi.