2 major cruise lines to suspend operations due to outbreak

Two major cruise lines announced a temporary halt to global operations Thursday, cancelling cruises through at least April 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple news reports.

Viking Cruises was the first major cruise line to suspend all cruises in response to the outbreak, according to USA Today.

Carnival’s Princess Cruises, the industry’s most hard hit liner, also announced it was halting global operations of its entire fleet of 18 cruise ships for two months due to the outbreak, according to CNBC.

Princess Cruises operates two of the vessels that have been recently stricken by the virus: the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined Feb. 4 with 3,700 passengers off the coast of Japan with more than 700 infected; and the Grand Princess, which had been quarantined off the coast of San Francisco with 3,500 aboard and 21 confirmed with the virus.

Both ships have since been evacuated and passengers taken to military bases around the country where they would be quarantined.

A third Princess Cruises ship, The Caribbean Princess, was also being isolated in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, while crew members get tested for the virus.

Shares of Carnival Corp. slid by more than 20 percent in pre-market trading Thursday after the announcement, CNBC reported. Shares of Carnival, which owns Princess Cruises, have fallen more than 57% since Jan. 1, according to CNBC.

The canceled voyages on Princess Cruises would have departed from March 12 to May 10.

“By taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world,” said Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises.

Princess Cruises said passengers who are now aboard cruises that will end in the next five days could continue to sail through the end of the itinerary, but those currently on cruises extending beyond March 17 will need to disembark at a convenient location. For those whose cruises are now canceled, Princess is planning to offer transfers, credits and other travel incentives.

Viking chairman Torstein Hagen wrote in a letter to passengers that the company is going “to do what is best for our guests and our employees, as we have always done.”

“I am writing today because the situation has now become such that operating as a travel company involves significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish the travel experiences for which our guests have been planning," Hagen wrote, according to USA Today.

Hagen added that 29 passengers aboard one of its Southeast Asia river cruises had been recently exposed to the virus and that all had to be quarantined. He also cited that many major ports around the world were being closed or restricted, which created major hurdles for its fleet.

Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department advised Americans, especially those most vulnerable to COVID-19, to “not travel by cruise ship.”

Accusations of dishonesty

Elsewhere, a Norwegian Cruise Line employee in South Florida accused managers of asking sales staff to lie to customers about COVID-19 to protect the company's bookings, according to a report by the New Times in Miami.

A senior sales manager at Norwegian's Miami office provided scripted responses for the sales team to use if potential customers expressed concerns about COVID-19, according to emails leaked to the newspaper.

“Team,” the email reads in part, “these are one liner’s [sic] to help you close your guests that are on the fence. DO NOT USE THESE unless the coronavirus is brought up.”

— This is a developing story. Please return to AJC.com for updates.