Italy’s Costa Cruises joins liners’ return to sea

ROME • Italian cruise ship Costa Deliziosa returned to service on Sunday, setting sail from the Adriatic port of Trieste after a coronavirus furlough of more than five months.

Carrying only Italian residents as part of its precautions against Covid-19 contagion, its weeklong outing will follow an all-Italy itinerary of Adriatic and Mediterranean ports.

Following a strict protocol, passengers had their temperatures taken, were tested for Covid-19 and completed a health questionnaire before being allowed on board.

The crew had been tested for the virus and spent 14 days in quarantine before the departure.

Social-distancing rules were in place that entailed the elimination of the traditional dinner buffet. The use of restaurants, bars and swimming pools will be carefully scheduled to limit numbers.

The coronavirus pandemic visited an unprecedented crisis on the cruise ship industry, which had been enjoying robust growth since 2018.

Not only were operators forced to ground their ships but they faced accusations of botching the handling of the epidemic in its early stages.

Cruise lines are hoping that tighter protocols will allow them to control the still-lingering threat of Covid-19 aboard their ships while still offering travellers a worthwhile cruise experience. Several of Costa’s rivals have already returned to sea, notably Italian operator MSC Cruises.

The MSC Grandiosa was the first big cruise ship to venture out, leaving the northwest port of Genoa on Aug 17, also for a weeklong cruise.

Italy represents the bulk of Europe’s cruise industry, reaping €14.5 billion (RM72.5 billion) of revenue per year (US$17 billion) and supporting nearly 53,000 jobs, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

The group said the worldwide financial losses linked to the shut- down and timid resumption would total some US$50 billion, with 334,000 jobs lost.

The industry faces rough waters as it tries to lure back punters who tend to be older, and thus more vulnerable to Covid-19.

Costa Cruises in particular faces a public relations nightmare, with 180 complaints lodged against the company by French passengers including for manslaughter from the families of three who died of Covid-19. — AFP