Seatrade Cruise News is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Cruise lines closely monitor MERS outbreak

Cruise lines closely monitor MERS outbreak
Cruise lines are closely monitoring the MERS outbreak as fears and uncertainty continue to grip South Korea, with neighbours Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau raising travel alerts. The death toll in Korea rose to nine, with 108 confirmed cases as of Wednesday and 3,500 people placed under quarantine.

The World Health Organization has urged the reopening of nearly 2,500 schools, saying infections have occurred only at hospitals and come from close contact with those infected with the virus, and not the air.

Despite WHO having not recommended curbs on travel, thousands have cancelled plans to visit South Korea.

There are also reports of cruise lines moving to change their schedules due to concerns over MERS. Incheon and Busan are the cruise ports closest to the areas affected by MERS and there are unconfirmed reports of lines dropping calls there.

'We cannot give you confirmed information as the situation keeps changing,' a source said.

Mariner of the Seas is due to depart from Shanghai on June 20 and scheduled to call at Jeju and Busan in South Korea as well as Fukuoka, Japan. Quantum of the Seas is due to depart from Shanghai and call at Incheon (Seoul). The vessel is currently in Southeast Asia and will be making its maiden call at Singapore Thursday.

'Costa Cruises continues to closely monitor the situation, and we are in regular communication with local government and international regulatory authorities, as well as our trade partners on any changes in itineraries,' Budhy Bok, president of Costa Asia, told Seatrade Cruise News. Three Costa ships are currently based in North Asia.

'The safety of our guests and crew members is our utmost priority and represents a necessary condition for a cruise holiday,' Bok added. He said Costa would continue to closely monitor the MERS outbreak situation.

Bok added Costa is ready to adopt any further measures, if recommended by health officials or other relevant authorities, to guarantee the safety of guests and crew.

Hong Kong has issued a red alert, its second-highest outbound travel advisory, and views MERS as a 'significant threat,' advising people to avoid non-essential travel.

According to the latest reports, there were three suspected MERS cases in Hong Kong, all people who had returned from South Korea.

'The MERS situation of course touches a nerve in Hong Kong and other countries that were affected by SARS [in 2003],' said Jeff Bent, managing director of Worldwide Cruise Terminals. He said cruises were due to depart Kai Tak Cruise Terminal on July 10 and 18, Aug. 19 and Sept. 2 that include Jeju Island in their itineraries. There are no cruises in the next few months departing Hong Kong that include the Korean mainland in their itineraries.

'We have not yet heard of changes or cancellations. Since there is still a month to go, the lines have time to line up alternative ports if necessary, for example, in Taiwan or Japan. Also, if Jeju Island does not register any MERS cases, there may not be an issue to call there,' Bent said.

Ship calls and passenger throughput at Hong Kong continue to grow with calls at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal alone doubling from 28 last year to 56 in 2015. According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, itineraries of ships homeporting in Hong Kong remain unchanged for the time being.

Despite Jeju not having any MERS cases, there were unconfirmed media reports that ships such Sapphire Princess, scheduled to leave Shanghai on Aug. 17, will now head to Japan instead of South Korea.

A Star Cruises spokesperson told Seatrade Cruise News their current regular itineraries have no South Korean ports of call. 'We are also constantly monitoring the situation in South Korea as well,' the spokesperson said.

Lines such as Silversea Cruises that come to North Asia only later in the year are unaffected by this situation.

Nam Kyung-pil, governor of Gyeonggi province, which surrounds the South Korean capital, Seoul, is reported to have said: 'We are fighting two wars: the war against the disease and the war against fear.'