Durban – MSC Cruises said that it followed all the correct procedures before its cruise liner, the MSC Orchestra, departed from the Durban harbour on Monday.
This comes after SA Maritime Safety Authority chief executive Sobantu Tilayi announced on Wednesday that the ship would be quarantined when it returned to Durban on Friday.
The cruise liner came under scrutiny after it departed on the five-day cruise to Mozambique at the beginning of the week, despite the president’s announcement on Sunday.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula criticised MSC for going ahead with the cruise and claimed that the company understood clearly that the ban would be in force by the time the ship returned.
However, MSC Cruises stated that it only departed after receiving confirmation from all authorised parties that the port was open and operating as normal, and that the ship was cleared for departure by “all relevant authorities”.
It was only after the cruise liner departed that the government published new regulations to ban all passenger cruise ships coming from international waters at a number of ports.
MSC Cruises said that the vessel had remained at sea for the entire duration of the cruise as the only scheduled stop, at Pomene in Mozambique, had been cancelled.
There are 3337 people on board, of which 929 are crew, and approximately 99 percent of the passengers on board are South African citizens and permanent residents, the company said. It added that there were no foreign nationals who had travelled from high-risk areas in the past 14 days. All passengers are reported to be in good health, with none having visited the Medical Centre with any flu-like symptoms.
“Since January, MSC Cruises has strict preventative measures in place to screen all passengers and crew both in terms of their health and travel history, all of which would result in denial of boarding prior to the vessel’s departure,” MSC Cruises said in a statement.
“These measures are in place across MSC Cruises’ entire fleet, both prior to embarkation and along the cruise, and are in addition to deep sanitation measures both at the beginning and at the end, as well as during the cruise.
“Finally, the vessel has submitted to the relevant authorities a disembarkation plan that will only permit 100 passengers at a time to disembark from the ship in order to comply with regulation preventing more than 100 persons from gathering in a sea port precinct.”
Mbalula said that the cruise liner would be dealt with in terms of the new regulations that came into effect this week.
“In terms of these regulations, no passenger vessels will be allowed in our ports. In essence, there is a total ban on cruise ships. This affects all leisure travellers. With effect from Thursday, no cruise ships will be permitted to call into South African ports, nor will any be allowed to leave our shores,” Mbalula said.