Cruise ships to return to Seychelles after 18-month COVID-19 hiatus
MS Island Sky operated by London-based Noble Caledonia will open the season with calls to four of Seychelles' outer islands - Aldabra, Assumption, Farquhar and Cosmoledo. (Clay Gilliland, Wikimedia) Photo License: CC BY-SA 2.0
(Seychelles News Agency) - Seychelles will welcome vessels with a maximum of 300 passengers for the 2021-2022 cruise ship season from mid-November, said a top official, the first port calls to the island nation after an 18-month stoppage due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Pent-up demand in the industry means the archipelago in the western Indian Ocean has interest from cruise operators through early 2024.
MS Island Sky operated by London-based Noble Caledonia will open the season with calls to four of Seychelles' outer islands - Aldabra, Assumption, Farquhar and Cosmoledo.
The relatively small cruise ship with a carrying capacity of 118 passengers will be the first vessel to sail to Seychelles since the closure of the destination to cruise ships in March 2020.
The principal secretary at the Department of Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine, Alan Renaud, told SNA that "to facilitate the safe re-start of cruise ship operations, the department has created a 'COVID-19 Company and Cruise Ship Checklist'."
"This is for cruise ship operators to follow in order that the ships adopted minimum safe measures to be implemented in their operations in Seychelles," said Renaud.
He explained that the checklist was developed from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) joint COVID-19 guidance for cruise ship operations, as revised in May 2021.
It follows a goal-based approach, identifying measures to be taken on ships and ashore, covering such topics as risk assessment, responsibilities in relation to COVID-19 matters, resources and personnel needed, shipboard operations and response to a COVID-19 outbreak among others.
"The checklist will outline the duties and authorities of the agencies in Seychelles, the passenger terminal arrangements at all ports of call, the contingencies in case of a COVID-19 outbreak, and generally the coordination between cruises and ports in relation to COVID-19," said Renaud.
He added that Seychelles will be rolling out a maritime version of the present travel authorisation system, adapted to cruise ships and yachts, serving simultaneously as a health protection system as well as an enhanced border control system for incoming vessels.
"The maritime edition will be integrated with the ship's systems and the intention is to make it a seamless, paperless, touchless process for both embarking and disembarking guests and the ships themselves," said Renaud.
Prior to the pandemic, cruise ships were a $45 billion global industry, carrying 20 million passengers a year, with a very loyal fan base. The industry was also heavily impacted by the pandemic, with many countries putting place no sail orders for cruises.
On March 9 last year, the government of Seychelles announced a temporary closure of the island nation to cruise ships to protect the population from the threat of the COVID-19 virus.
Renaud said that Seychelles received continual inquiries in 2020 and 2021 on when it might re-open.
"We're pleased to report that since we announced we would re-open our sea borders earlier this year, we have voyages planned from November 2021 all the way to February 2024," he added.
The principal secretary for tourism, Sherin Francis, said that the re-opening to the cruise industry "is another milestone for our destination."
"I am happy that all relevant actors have ensured that due precautions have been taken to facilitate this exercise in a safe manner," she continued.
Port Victoria recorded 39 cruise ship calls during the 2019/2020 season, with a total of 63,442 passengers. The last vessel to call before the season was forced to close prematurely was the Bougainville, operated by the Compagnie Du Ponant, on March 11 last year.