Coronavirus: UAE suspends cruise operations as liners become global hotspots

Operators offer refunds for scheduled holidays

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 21, 2013 -  Passengers arriving at the cruise ship Mariner of the Seas at Mina Rashid. ( Jaime Puebla / The National Newspaper )

Cruises operating out of the UAE have been suspended as the authorities take precautions to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Operators said they were informed of the decision by the Federal Transport Authority and apologised to passengers.

The decision came after a high profile outbreak on board a ship in Japan and a second incident on a vessel off California. On Monday, India banned all foreign cruise ships from its ports due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

"In addition to India closing all ports, we have just learned that the UAE is no longer allowing entry to cruise ships," Celebrity Cruises wrote in a letter to passengers.

In an abundance of caution we feel this is the best decision for the health and safety of all

"We have therefore made the difficult decision to cancel the Constellation voyage of 4/1/20," it said in reference to the huge liner, which runs cruises out of Dubai in winter.

"In an abundance of caution we feel this is the best decision for the health and safety of all."

The American company offered passengers full compensation plus discounts on future cruises.

The Federal Transport Authority was contacted for comment. It is not known how long the suspension will last.

Dubai has grown to be a major winter cruise destination and welcomed more than 800,000 during the 2018 to 2019 season - about five ships per day. It is a home winter port for several major liners and is a stop-off for many others.

Abu Dhabi handles more than 300,000 cruise passengers per season and has invested hugely in its facilities at Mina Zayed.

Most major operators were due to bring thousands of passengers into the UAE this month, while the new Dubai Harbour at the Marina will become the region’s largest terminal for ocean liners once completed.

The health ministry reported 14 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, and a further 15 on Tuesday, bringing the total to 74. Seventeen patients have recovered.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - MARSA MINA, new waterfront lifestyle destination opening ceremony designed to attract tourists arriving at the capital by cruise ship at Zayed Port. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Cruise ship operators have taken precautions to guard against the further spread of the virus.

A spokesman for Cunard and P&O, one of the world’s largest operators, said they are in touch with World Health Organisation officials to keep passengers safe.

“Although the risk to our guests and crew is low, we recognise the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) situation is potentially unsettling,” he said.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and are able to react quickly to any arising challenges; whether that’s re-routing Cunard’s ships to minimise risk or putting extra procedures in place for your protection and well-being.”

Day-to-day screenings are already taking place on-board for guests, crew and visitors at all ports of embarkation. Each ship now has its now medical centre equipped to respond to an onboard outbreak of Covid-19.

Operators Seabourn and Holland America Line declined to comment on specific cancellations but said they are working with health authorities.

In Dubai, the cruise ship season is due to end on June 3 when Sea Princess departs. It is due to begin on October 19 when German-owned AIDAprima embarks passengers for the new season.

Cruise ships are seen as fertile breeding ground for the deadly virus, with more than 700 cases and six linked deaths from the Diamond Princess held off Japan last month.

A sister ship, the Grand Princess, was due to dock in California on Monday with 21 confirmed coronavirus infections among 3,500 people on board.

The operator of MSC Lirica, which was turned away from Mangalore in India on Saturday, said that none of the 1,145 crew or 1,430 passengers on board had a flu-like illness or associated symptoms.