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Belfast-bound cruise liner skips Italy after nationwide coronavirus lockdown

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MSC Splendida is due in Belfast on May 1

MSC Splendida is due in Belfast on May 1

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MSC Splendida is due in Belfast on May 1

A cruise ship due to dock in Belfast in May has changed its itinerary to avoid Italy after the country went into lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The MSC Splendida, due in Belfast on May 1, had planned to dock at Civitavecchia on March 28 and Genoa the following day.

However, Italy extended its coronavirus quarantine measures to the entire country on Monday night.

A MSC Cruises spokesperson said "due to the nature of the current situation, the plans surrounding our itineraries need to be incredibly fluid and changes are being made regularly".

"Today we announced a change to the itinerary of MSC Splendida which is currently on a Grand Voyage from Dubai," they added.

"She was due to dock in Civitavecchia (March 28) and Genoa (March 29). However, she will no longer call in these ports and disembarkation ports will now switch to Marseille (March 28) and Barcelona (March 29).

"Following this voyage, embarkation for her repositioning cruise will change from Genoa (March 29) to Marseilles (March 28) and Barcelona (March 29). From here she will sail as planned to Hamburg."

A different cruise ship operator that was due to bring 4,000 guests and 1,000 crew to Belfast on May 8 is to take a "voluntary and temporary pause" of global operations for two months.

Princess Cruises, the operator of two ships which were hit by coronavirus outbreaks, will keep its 18 cruise ships in dock until May 10, with all journeys cancelled.

Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, said the firm's "bold action" was intended to "reassure" customers.

"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 wellbeing 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," he said.

The firm, which serves more than 50,000 guests daily from 70 countries, has had to deal with outbreaks on board the Diamond Princess off Japan and the Grand Princess off California.

The company said people currently on board a cruise that will end in the next five days will continue to sail as expected so that onward travel arrangements are not disrupted.

Voyages that are under way and extend beyond March 17 will be ended at the most convenient location for guests and Princess will do everything possible to return each guest home "with the greatest amount of care possible".

People who have paid for cruises during the pause can transfer the money paid for their cancelled cruise to a future cruise of their choice or request a cash refund.

A spokesman for Belfast Harbour said: "Belfast Harbour notes Princess Cruises' announcement that it has cancelled all of its cruises worldwide until May 10, 2020. We expect the planned call by the Regal Princess on May 8 will now not happen.

"Belfast Harbour will continue to liaise with all customers as the impact of Covid-19 continues to develop." Meanwhile, a fourth conference in Northern Ireland has been postponed in the last three days.

The Taste of Tourism Summit had been due to take place at the Culloden Estate and Spa on March 31. NI Hotels Federation chief executive Janice Gault said: "Following developments over the course of the last week, the staging of the Taste of Tourism Summit has been reviewed and the decision has regretfully been taken to postpone the event."

Belfast Telegraph