March 12 (Reuters) – Princess Cruises, the operator of two ocean liners quarantined because of numerous coronavirus cases, said on Thursday it would suspend voyages of all its 18 ships for two months.
The suspension upends an industry already struggling with cancellations following the outbreak, and comes after Finland’s Viking Line temporarily paused operations of its river ships and ocean liners around the world.
“Never in those 55 years, and certainly not in the 20 years I have served in this company, have we been tested in ways we have been tested over the past 40 days,” Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, said on the operator’s official YouTube channel, addressing the decision to suspend operations.
“This is perhaps the most difficult decision in our history.”
Shares of parent Carnival Corp, which have already lost over half their value since the start of the year, tumbled a further 15%. Rivals Royal Caribbean Corp and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings were also down.
Crisis at Princess Cruises deepened after its ship, The Grand Princess, was denied entry to San Francisco Bay last Wednesday en route back from Hawaii as authorities learned some passengers and crew had developed flu-like symptoms.
An initial round of testing abroad the ship found that 21 people, mostly crew, had been infected. The passengers were eventually allowed to disembark at a specially secured terminal in San Francisco and at least one couple aboard the ship has sued the company, seeking over $1 million in damages for emotional trauma.
Patrons from an earlier cruise to Mexico aboard the same ship had also tested positive for coronavirus.
In February, the company’s Diamond Princess cruise ship came under the spotlight over the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak when hundreds onboard were infected, then the biggest concentration of confirmed cases outside China, where the outbreak originated.
About 700 people onboard were infected and six died.
Carnival has already warned of a hit to its annual earnings due to the outbreak.
Princess voyages underway will carry on as planned, while those that extend beyond March 17 will be ended at the “most convenient location for guests,” the company said.
(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi and Shounak Dasgupta)(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.