(1:15 p.m. EDT) -- Princess Cruises is suspending fleet operations in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, affecting all sailings between March 12 and May 10. In Australia, the suspension will last a month longer, due to its government's ban on all cruising until June 15.

Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, said: "Princess Cruises is a global vacation company that serves more than 50,000 guests daily from 70 countries as part of our diverse business, and it is widely known that we have been managing the implications of COVID-19 on two continents.

"By taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world."

Princess is offering passengers full refunds or the opportunity to transfer 100 percent of the fares paid to future cruises. As an extra incentive for guests to accept a future cruise, Princess will add an additional Future Cruise Credit benefit, which can be applied to the cruise fare or onboard expenses.

Princess will also honor this offer for anyone who made a final payment, but canceled their booking on or after February 4, 2020. The credit can be used on any voyage departing through May 1, 2022.

The line's information page recommends that passengers contact their travel agents or the cruise line directly. Because wait times on the phone are expected to be long, passengers booked on sailings set to depart after mid-April might want to wait a week or two to call.

To find out how cruise lines are handling cancellations, read Cruise Critic's article on flexible policies.

This development follows passengers and crew testing positive for coronavirus on three Princess Cruises ships.

Diamond Princess was quarantined off the coast of Japan in February 2020, after a resident of Hong Kong, who disembarked the ship on January 25, tested positive for coronavirus. More than 500 of the ship's passengers and crew subsequently tested positive for the virus on the following sailing, forcing the ship to remain off the coast of Yokohama (Tokyo) for two weeks.

Two passengers and 19 crew members also tested positive on Grand Princess's February 21 sailing from San Francisco. The ship docked in an unused port in Oakland on March 9, and passengers were disembarked in order of priority, as defined, directed and managed by state and local authorities. Crew continue to be quarantined and treated onboard the ship.

In Australia, 293 Ruby Princess passengers tested positive and four have died after disembarking on March 19 in Sydney.

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