Italy will be lifting its ban on cruise ships from August 15, with MSC Cruises planning to resume sailing a day later.
The operator’s flagship, MSC Grandiosa, will return to service on August 16 offering voyages to Rome, Naples and Palermo in Italy and Valletta, in Malta, from Genoa.
A second MSC ship, the slightly smaller MSC Magnifica, will resume sailings out of Italy on August 29 with seven-night departures from the Italian ports of Bari and Trieste to the Greek ports of Corfu, Katakolon and Piraeus.
“We are very pleased to be able to start welcoming back guests for full-experience cruise holidays this summer, on board two of our most popular ships including our flagship MSC Grandiosa, and in the Mediterranean, the very region where our company’s roots are,” said Gianni Onorato, the chief executive of MSC Cruises.
Despite the restart, British travellers will not be welcome on board yet – the line is only open to residents of countries in the Schengen Area, which does not include the UK (though Onorato has confirmed that as soon as the Foreign Office warning is lifted Britons will be welcome onboard).
The two ships will be the first to implement a new comprehensive health and safety protocol so as to ensure that Covid-19 doesn’t spread onboard. Passengers will be subjected to a swab test before embarking and anyone who tests positive for the virus, or shows symptoms, will be denied boarding. Meanwhile, passengers will only be allowed ashore via a guided MSC excursion, with independent exploration of ports prohibited.
Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises’ executive chairman, said: “We have worked closely with the relevant EU-level, national health and other authorities from the countries that MSC Grandiosa and MSC Magnifica will call along their Mediterranean itineraries to develop a comprehensive set of procedures designed to protect the health and safety of all passengers on board our ships as well as ashore to ensure that local communities feel comfortable welcoming our guests.”
MSC Cruises isn’t the only cruise line making a comeback in Italy: Costa Cruises plans to restart operations from Italian ports in September.
The line’s Costa Deliziosa will depart on September 6 on a week-long cruise from Trieste to the Greek Islands. Then, on September 19, Costa Diadema will set sail on a seven-day itinerary from Genoa to Malta.
"We are extremely excited that we will be able to cruise again soon and we want to thank the Italian government and all the authorities for their constant availability and support," said Michael Thamm, group CEO of Costa Group.
In giving cruise lines the green light to restart sailing, Italy joins a small but growing number of countries allowing ships to cast anchor and begin the long journey back from the coronavirus pandemic.
Greece lifted its cruise ship ban on August 1, while sailing recommenced in Germany late last month. However, while the tide is slowly changing and cruise starts to make a staggered comeback, Britons are still banned from getting back onto ocean waves.
In a statement issued on July 9, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it “advises against cruise ship travel at this time. This is due to the ongoing pandemic and is based on medical advice from Public Health England.
“If you have future cruise travel plans, you should speak to your travel operator, or the travel company you booked with, for further advice.”
River cruises are exempt from this advice.
The FCO’s cruise ban has disappointed thousands of Britons who had a break on both UK and foreign waters booked, and enraged industry insiders.
Michael Wilson, managing director of Bolsover Cruise Club, told Telegraph Travel: “The fact that Brits still can't choose to sail on sea-going ships – in the eyes of the FCO – is frustrating. Europe is beginning to reopen to cruise and has been open to holidaymakers more generally for several weeks now, not to mention our bustling staycation spots on home shores. It's difficult to understand how a land-based holiday to a busy resort can be encouraged, yet a cruise on a ship with a whole set of science-backed health and safety protocols in place is actively advised against.
“It has such a detrimental effect on the cruise industry to suggest it should be deemed unsafe, when the reality is that cruise lines are implementing more stringent procedures than almost any hotel chain out there.”