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Gianni Onorato describes 'reimagined cruising'; MSC Grandiosa and Magnifica pictured this week in Genoa.

Onorato: MSC Cruises could be up and operating in the Med this month

MSC Grandiosa could resume cruise operations round-trip from Genoa as early as August 16, followed by MSC Magnifica from Bari on August 29, if an Italian government decree expected in the coming days gives the green light, MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato told Seatrade in an exclusive interview Thursday.

‘We have already received approval from Malta and Greece where our initial itineraries will touch and where the authorities have not only reopened their ports to cruising but have also approved our health and safety protocols announced earlier this week,’ he explained.

Approved by Scientific Commiitee

Onorato also confirmed Italy’s Technical Scientific Committee has given approval for the resumption of cruising from Italy and ‘we have reason to believe the ministerial decree will follow latest by August 10.’

The initial phase of restart sees MSC Grandiosa undertaking cruises from Genoa, calling at Civitavecchia, Naples, Palermo and Valletta, whilst MSC Magnifica’s proposed itinerary will cruise from Bari, Italy, to the Greek ports of Corfu, Katakolon for Olympia, Piraeus for Athens, Trieste in northern Italy. Both programs are seven-day round-trips.

Only Schengen passengers from 26 countries will be able to sail..

Multi port embark

However passengers will be able to embark/disembark at any of the Italian cruise ports having undergone the company’s comprehensive preventative measures at each of the embarkation terminals. These include COVID-19 swab testing with results available before boarding. 

Onorato said MSC Cruises’ new health and safety protocols go above and beyond any other sector of the travel industry. ‘Our aim is to make the ship a bubble as well as give confidence to customers. Each embarkation port will have 15-20 manned medical stations and clearance to board will be provided within 60-90 minutes of arrival.'

The swab testing can be done by the on-board labs or at a shoreside facility with MSC covering the costs ‘Our return to the ports will not result in additional costs for the local communities,’ he added.

Each ship will be limited to 70% occupancy initially. On Grandiosa 250 cabins will be set aside for COVID-19 isolation, if needed.

Each ship will have three doctors and six nurses.

‘Our ships will have 100% external fresh air supplied to each guest and crew cabin and on-board public areas. The fresh air will be sanitised through a UV-C light technology that kills 99.97% of all microbes – bacteria and viruses. There will be no re-circulation of air between cabins or within the ship and the air conditioning system in the ship’s Medical Centre will be sanitised and purified with a dedicated UV light unit equipped with H13 HEPA medical grade filter,’ Onorato added.

No independent shore access for crew and passeners

Seatrade asked how crew and passengers are reacting to being allowed ashore only via company-arranged tours/buses.

'Anyone who chooses to cruise with us in this reimagined way will be made fully aware before signing off on the cruise of our testing procedures, about wearing masks on board in confined spaces where social distancing is difficult such as entrance to the theatre and to the elevators and they will be told about the shore excursions and what will happen if someone is tested positive for COVID during the cruise,' Onorato said.

Some may say it's a harsh decision to not allow crew to disembark, 'but they can leave the ship as long as it is in an organised tour where the bus drivers and guides will also be tested, the buses will be fully sanitised, social distancing will be observed and wearing of masks will ensure we are creating a bubble.'

COVID insurance

'We are strongly recommending they also purchase for 18 per person per weeklong cruise a special COVID insurance policy which we have put together with Europ Assistance covering ticket price refund, or an apportion, if tested positive either at embark or during the cruise.'

Looking ahead to 2021, Onorato confirmed its newbuilding programme continues as planned with 11 ships on order. He said the only slippage on delivery would be for ships due to come on stream in the coming 12 months.

New ships

Seatrade earlier reported MSC Virtuosa, under construction at Chantiers de l'Atlantique and planned for delivery in the fourth quarter this year, is delayed. Onorato said the delay would be a few months' and whilst he could not confirm exact arrival, it will be sailing in 2021. MSC Seashore, being built at Fincantieri, is to enter service in August 2021.

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