The coming winter and spring months are generally the prime time for Middle East and world voyages that would take cruise ships through the Gulf of Aden and outward into the Indian Ocean, where pirate activity has recently spread.
Italian line MSC Cruises famously changed its routing to avoid the region indefinitely after pirates attempted to hijack its MSC Melody back in April; shortly thereafter, U.K.-based Fred. Olsen announced that its 2010 world cruise, a 106-night voyage departing on January 5, 2010, will also avoid the area. Hapag-Lloyd has also sworn off Gulf of Aden transits until the situation improves, at least with passengers onboard; in 2008, the line debarked passengers at an undisclosed location and flew them to Dubai while the ship sailed through with only a skeleton crew. (Cruise lines that sail through the Gulf of Aden but have not yet made scheduling changes include Costa Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Oceania Cruises.)
What's interesting about Seabourn's move, however, is its choice of the Caribbean as an alternative to Africa and the Indian Ocean, rather than transitioning the ship without passing through danger zones to a different -- but perhaps equally exotic -- area.
Seabourn spokesman Bruce Good tells us that with Seabourn Spirit already scheduled to visit Bali, Indonesia and Malaysia at that time, and Seabourn Pride in Vietnam and Thailand, it made more sense to increase capacity elsewhere. "The Caribbean is popular, especially since we can do such unusual ports and our way-fun Caviar in the Surf beach parties," Good tells us. "The good news is that folks who want a laid-back Caribbean getaway will have an intimate, ultra luxury Seabourn option."
In a prepared statement, Seabourn CEO Pamela Conover is quoted as saying, "It makes me sad to have to cancel these cruises. I personally loved touring Kenya's game parks and the islands of the Seychelles, Madagascar and Zanzibar are lovely and exotic destinations where we sincerely had hoped to be able to take our guests. We look forward to a time when the sea routes are controlled enough for us to cruise there for a season."
Passengers already booked on Seabourn's canceled sailings -- a small number, Good says, as the sailings were still more than a year out -- will be contacted with a move-off offer that includes an extra savings and an onboard credit if they rebook.
We'll keep you posted.
--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor