A ship operated by MSC Cruises is sailing for Cozumel, Mexico, Wednesday after authorities in two Caribbean ports effectively refused to let passengers disembark over coronavirus fears.
The company said it has received “formal and final authorization” to call in Cozumel, despite an earlier report to the contrary, and expects to arrive Wednesday evening local time.
On Tuesday, Jamaican authorities delayed a disembarkation decision on the MSC Meraviglia for “many hours,” according to a previous statement from the company. Overnight, Grand Cayman authorities denied the ship disembarkation in Georgetown. The decisions are the first virus-related denials at ports in the Americas.
“In both instances, the ship was effectively turned away simply based on fears,” the company said.
Geneva-based MSC Cruises is part of MSC Group, a closely held shipping and logistics company. But shares of industry peers Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. fell sharply Wednesday, with Carnival reaching its lowest level since October 2013.
Coronavirus has already prompted the industry to dial back exposure in Asia, where companies had a relatively small but growing presence. But the Meraviglia incident — coupled with mounting cases of coronavirus in Italy — appeared to signal the potential for a broader disruption in bigger markets, exacerbating the hit to cruise stocks.
“It would be devastating to the cruise business if disruption extends from Asia to core markets like the Caribbean,” C. Patrick Scholes, an analyst at SunTrust, said in an email Wednesday.
Cozumel is the MSC Meraviglia’s next scheduled port of call.
MSC Cruises, which says it doesn’t have any evidence of coronavirus on the ship, said it was in touch with local health authorities in Mexico to ensure that their decision on disembarkation is factually based.
The company said its medical records show one case of seasonal flu in a crew member, who boarded the ship in Miami after traveling from Manila.
Earlier in the day, it appeared unclear what would happen upon arrival. A report from Mexico’s Milenio on Wednesday said the ship’s arrival in Cozumel had already been canceled, citing a source in the port authority.
But Health Secretary Alejandra Aguirre Crespo — of Quintana Roo, the state where Cozumel is located — seemed to echo MSC’s findings that the crew member in question had regular flu, not coronavirus.
The episode is the latest example of a cruise ship seemingly trapped at sea over coronavirus concerns, as governments seek to keep cases away from their shores. The incidents have hit consumer sentiment during peak bookings season, battered cruise stocks and prompted companies to reduce profit estimates for the year.
Until now, the showdowns over cruise ships have taken place in Asia and Europe. The Meraviglia debacle strikes much closer to home for the U.S. and Latin America, where Brazil just confirmed the first coronavirus case.
Carnival fell 7.5% to $33.14, while Royal Caribbean fell 8.1% to $82.34 and Norwegian fell 7.9% to $36.21.
(Updates with company comment in second paragraph)
–With assistance from Andrea Navarro.