Cruise itineraries in the Middle East are in disarray due to the unfolding tragedy in Israel and Gaza.
One leading cruise line has cancelled its entire Red Sea programme through to 17 April 2024 because of the conflict.
Another cruise through the Suez Canal will go ahead – but with seven of the planned ports of call removed.
Israel has long been a popular destination for cruises in the eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea. The ports of Haifa and Ashdod feature on many Mediterranean voyages, while Eilat is a key Red Sea call.
Following the attack by Hamas on Israel on 7 October, cruise lines acted immediately to remove Israeli ports of call from itineraries.
Governments are warning against travel to Israel, and the country will be avoided by cruise ships indefinitely. But now The Independent has learnt of widespread changes to itineraries during the winter and into 2024. The changes and cancellations will affect dozens of voyages and tens of thousands of travellers.
MSC Cruises has cancelled the entire programme of MSC Orchestra originally planned in the Red Sea from 8 November 2023 to 17 April 2024. The repeating itinerary was due to call at three Egyptian Red Sea ports: Sharm El Sheikh, the main resort; Port Sokhna, about 60 miles southeast of Cairo; and Safaga, about 100 miles northeast of Luxor.
In addition it was due to visit Aqaba in Jordan for a 14-hour day, allowing tours to Petra, as well as a long day in the main Saudi cruise port, Jeddah.
MSC Cruises said the cancellation was made “because of the proximity of some of ship’s ports of call to Israel and the number of restrictions in the bordering countries that would have adversely affected the holiday experience for passengers.
“The winter programme for MSC Sinfonia from 12 November 2023 to 15 April 2024 has been cancelled as the ship’s main highlight in its itinerary was Haifa in Israel.”
MSC says passengers can claim a full refund or choose an alternative sailing.
Other cruise lines are continuing to transit the Suez Canal between Port Said and Suez in Egypt, but are making substantial changes to the planned itineraries.
Oceania’s Nautica, which begins a Barcelona-to-Dubai voyage on 18 November, has dropped seven ports of call. She will sail nonstop from Heraklion in Crete to the UAE, missing calls in Haifa, Port Said and Safaga in Egypt, Aqaba in Jordan and the two Omani ports of Salalah and Muscat.
The company’s terms stipulate: “All itineraries, including points of embarkation and debarkation, are at the discretion of Oceania Cruises and may be modified up to and during the voyage.
“Oceania Cruises reserves the right to amend, cancel or make substitutions for any travel component without prior notice to the guest, including hotels, ports of call or other modes of transportation if, in its opinion, the situation requires a change or cancellation of arrangements.”
Celebrity Infinity has cancelled the planned eastern Mediterranean programme from February to April 2024 , which was originally going to start in Athens, taking in Haifa, Ashdod, Alexandria in Egypt and Kusadasi in Turkey.
The company says: “Booked guests will be offered the opportunity to cancel their cruise and receive a full refund or will be provided an onboard credit as a gesture of goodwill for the itinerary change.”