Syria Crisis: Cruise Lines' Reactions

September 25, 2013

(6:00 a.m. EDT) -- When tensions between the United States and Syria peaked early this month, the travel world took notice. The U.S. Department of State issued travel warnings to southeast Turkey, a country on many cruise itineraries, and scheduled port calls to Israeli cities were scrutinized.

Holland America Line announced on September 3 it would skip two planned stops in Israel -- Haifa and Ashdod for Jerusalem -- and members of Cruise Critic's forums took to the message boards to discuss the latest news.

Commenting on the news story, Elad Ben Dor said:

"strange, there is no american attack and no syrian attack - israel is peace and calm right now as it was in september 2,3. so it is shame that holland america is so urge to make wrong conclusions and very unreliable assessments:("

David Broad commented: "I would be quite annoyed those ports of call are beautiful! but then again, the safety of the passengers is more important."

And this is the key point: The safety of passengers is paramount, which is what prompted HAL's decision in the first place.

HAL chose to pull its Israeli port calls at the height of the Syria crisis, when there was a strong chance the United States would launch strikes. It no doubt seemed a prudent, although arguably overcautious, decision to make.
However, even though U.S. lines are notoriously skittish when it comes to any hint of unrest in a region, it was a surprise no other lines followed suit, as they did with Egypt (Norwegian Cruise Line had canceled all its Israel calls already, but this was due to the Egypt crisis rather than Syria).

The question is why?

A number of reasons, but by far the most likely is that HAL carries predominantly U.S. passengers and U.S. passengers don't like going anywhere near war zones or potential military targets.
Europeans, who are more used to having wars raging near them, are far more realistic when it comes to political unrest.

We reached out to all the cruise lines that are scheduled to stop in Israel in the coming months and asked them their plans. Most said although they were "closely monitoring" the situation, none were planning on canceling calls to Haifa or Ashdod.

The two lines with the most ships due to call in at these two ports are Costa Cruises and MSC. MSC Lirica calls in at Haifa on September 26, 27; October 6, 7, 17, 18, 28 and 29. Costa Deliziosa calls in at Haifa on October 2 and 3, and Costa Mediterranea on October 16, 23 and 30 and Costa Pacifica on October 4.

Both lines have something in common: They are Italian (though Costa is owned by U.S.-based Carnival Corp.) and carry mainly Italian passengers.

It's the same story with P&O Cruises, (which clearly carries mainly Brits), and which gave us the following statement: "We are closely monitoring the situation in Egypt and Israel and taking advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, U.S. State Department and our own local agents. Should we need to change any itineraries which include Haifa then we will contact customers as required."

Regent Seven Seas' Mariner and Voyager, Silversea's Silver Cloud and Cunard's Queen Elizabeth all have Israel port stops over the coming months, and carry a number of nationalities, but none of these lines have canceled.

We also contacted the Israeli Government Tourist Office who issued the following statement: "Israel welcomes over 300,000 visitors via cruise ships per year. In light of Holland American Line decision the FCO advice to Israel remains unchanged and IGTO will continue to welcome cruise passengers."

The threat has now receded significantly, and at time of writing there is even talk of a ceasefire, so it looks as if the lines' "wait and see" approach has paid off.

--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor