MSC Cruises is celebrating an unusual milestone — the 12-month anniversary of returning to cruise operations in the midst of a global pandemic.
It was August 16, 2020 when MSC became the first major cruise line to resume international cruises. The MSC Grandiosa drew the honor, embarking on a seven-day voyage from Genoa. As Cruise Radio reported at the time, emotions were running high, with cheers heard from both onboard and onshore as the ship sailed out of the Italian port.
In a statement, the company said it was able to restart last August after winning the approval of local, regional, and national authorities in Europe for its health and safety protocols, developed with the assistance of an external panel of medical and public health experts.
MSC says its COVID mitigation efforts “set the standard for the industry and paved the way for more lines to restart.”
A year later, as many cruise lines are still in the early stages of restarting their fleets, MSC has 10 ships sailing — more than any other cruise line and more than half of its 19-strong fleet.
A truly international operator, MSC is currently sailing in far-flung waters including around the UK coast, the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, the Baltic Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and the Red Sea. Over the past 12 months the line has made calls in 18 different nations.
Founded in Italy in 1989, MSC Cruises is part of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, the world’s second-largest container shipping operator. It’s the largest privately-held cruise company, and the fourth largest overall, carrying over 7 percent of global cruise passengers.
It has been an eventful year for the Geneva-based company. Over the past 12 months it took delivery of two newbuilds: the Virtuosa from French shipyard Chantiers de l’Atlantique and the Seashore from Italy’s Fincantieri. As well, no MSC Cruises ships were sold or sent to the scrapyard during the global health crisis.
The line also launched new luxury brand Explora Journeys in June 2021, as the first steel was cut at Fincantieri for Explora I. MSC was busy in the port development realm as well, pledging to invest in new cruise terminals in Miami, Barcelona, and Ancona, Italy. A new terminal in Durban, South Africa will be completed this year.
With many airlines still flying very limited schedules, some cruise lines have struggled to get passengers to embarkation points. MSC found a solution by launching “the industry’s biggest global charter program,” ferrying guests to and from embarkation ports throughout Europe.
More of the line’s ships will resume operations in the coming weeks and months, with the goal of returning to full operations by early next year.
MSC says despite the struggles of the past year, it has continued to innovate and work toward a more sustainable cruising future.
It is now building LNG-powered ships and says it is on track to reduce its carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030. It has also pledged to run a net carbon neutral operation by 2050, and is exploring the feasibility of building hydrogen-powered cruise ships in a joint project with Fincantieri.