In response to Monday's pirate scare involving Fred. Olsen's Balmoral, Italy-based MSC Cruises has announced that it will alter the itinerary for MSC Rhapsody, currently on a voyage from Durban, South Africa, to Genoa, Italy.
The new course will, however, still transit the Gulf of Aden, but the ship will take a more circuitous route that stays farther away from the eastern coast of Somalia. As the new route is estimated at 500 miles longer than the original, the line has replaced two calls at the Egyptian ports of Safaga and Sokhna with a single stop in Sharm El Sheik.
A company press release said that the change is being made so the ship could navigate in waters where the protection of a military escort is available, if necessary. The line says it is following the recommendations of the Maritime Security Centre for the Horn of Africa, a coordination center run by the EU Naval Force to safeguard shipping in the region. A company spokesman could provide no further details of why this new route, which still transits the Gulf of Aden, would allow for a military escort, while the original would not.
With concerns over safety growing, several lines have already adopted new policies for sailing through the Gulf of Aden. In December 2008, German-based cruise operators Plantours & Partner and Hapag-Lloyd decided to unload passengers before sailing through the Gulf of Aden, navigating the dangerous area with only a skeleton crew.
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor
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Pirate Scare Sparks MSC Cruises Itinerary Change
March 5, 2009