A German cruise ship has set sail for the first time since the industry ground to a halt amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
The TUI cruise ship, Mein Schiff 2 – which translates as My Ship 2 – took to the North Sea from Hamburg for Norway on Friday, with 1,200 passengers on board. Pre-pandemic, Mein Schiff 2 could accommodate 2,900.
It spent the weekend at sea with no land stops, before docking back in Germany late last night.
Occupancy was limited to 60 per cent to ensure that passengers could safely keep their distance. During the sailing, passengers and crew were required to wear protective masks or keep 1.5 metres away from one another, and were prohibited from serving themselves at the ship’s buffet. Diners ordered meals using their smartphones in place of traditional menus.
Passengers were also required to fill out a health questionnaire before boarding and were subjected to coronavirus temperature checks.
Following a successful first post-pandemic sailing, TUI plans to restart operations on board a second ship, Mein Schiff, from August 1.
Mein Schiff 2’s triumphant comeback has provided a glimmer of hope for the cruise industry, one of the sectors worst-hit by the coronavirus crisis, and other German operations have announced plans to follow suit.
From August 5, German cruise line Aida – a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation – will sail AIDAperla from Hamburg. A second Aida ship, AIDAmar, will depart from the Baltic port of Rostock on August 12 while a third, AIDAblu, will leave from Kiel on August 16.
Health and safety protocols will be in line with the EU Healthy Gateways guidance – meaning passengers can expect shorter cruises, fewer ports of call and activities organised by age.
The German cruise operators aren’t the only lines to return to life on the ocean wave, following the industry’s shutdown in March.
Last month Norwegian liner, Hurtigruten, became the first cruise line in the world to re-enter the ocean with a 12-day voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes onboard Finnmarken.
SeaDream became the first luxury line to resume operations when Sea Dream 1 set sail from Oslo on June 20.
Andreas Brynestad, CEO and Founder of SeaDream, said: “We are very proud to be the first luxury line to resume operations. Our preparation has paid off as we are able to maintain the experience of luxury onboard while ensuring everyone’s health, comfort, and safety. Everyone around the world has been affected by the health crisis. This historic moment feels like good news not just to our team, but our industry as a whole.”
However it’s very much a case of half steam ahead for the cruise industry with Canada, the Cayman Islands, Australia, New Zealand and Spain extending their cruise ship bans until later this year, a voluntary extension by major cruise lines in the US until at least October (in line with restrictions by health authorities), and the Seychelles turning away ships until 2022.
Meanwhile British holiday makers have been banned from all ocean-going ships after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office changed its guidance over fears of the spread of Covid-19.
The latest advice applies to all sea-going cruises, including those operating in UK waters.
Cruise writer Dave Monk is one of the many ocean enthusiasts disappointed that a break on UK waters remains off the cards.
He told Telegraph Travel: “Cruising around the UK should pose no more risk than staying in a hotel and, I would have thought, much safer than taking a plane, as social distancing can be maintained from the moment a passenger arrives at the cruise terminal until the time they disembark.”