Royal Caribbean Cancels Cruises from Israel Citing Unrest
Royal Caribbean International over the weekend withdrew its plans for cruises this summer from Israel. Citing the recent unrest in the region, the line canceled plans for cruises scheduled to operate from June to October. They said that their newest ship, the Odyssey of the Seas, would be repositioned to Florida for its eventual introduction into service.
In a press statement to USA Today, Royal Caribbean International said, “Due to the unrest in Israel and the region, Odyssey has not been able to complete the preparations required to operate from Haifa as planned.” President of the cruise line, Michael Bayley, followed up with a statement on social media saying that the current situation made it unsafe for passengers and crew and cited the uncertainty as the reason for the cancellation.
The Odyssey of the Seas immediately departed Haifa, stopping briefly in Cyprus, where she met up with of her fleet mates. She has now departed sailing to Civitavecchia, Italy, where she is expected to arrive at the end of the week.
News of the withdrawal came as unrest continued with the militant Palestinian organization Hamas firing rockets into Israel. The Israeli military has responded by shelling and bombing suspected Hamas locations. In addition, there have been clashes between Israeli and Palestinian residents in cities in Israel. While the port of Haifa, where the Odyssey of the Seas had docked and was going to be sailing from continues to operate, the Israeli ports of Ashdod and Ashkelon were reportedly closed following attacks on port infrastructure and surrounding facilities. Reuters reported that oil tankers were diverted to the port of Haifa instead of their normal calls at Ashkelon.
The decision to withdraw the entire season before the ship had even begun to sail prompted negative comments. People were questioning if it was a commercial decision being blamed on the current unrest. With the ship fully staffed and largely prepared to start sailing it could begin operations quickly whereas the company still needs to restart other cruise ships before they could begin sailing.
Royal Caribbean had heralded the entry of the Odyssey of the Seas into service as the next step in the cruise line’s return to service after a year-long suspension due to the pandemic. At the beginning of March, they announced that the new ship would begin its first season of cruising in May sailing a combination of 3- to 7-night trips to the Greek Isles and Cyprus for Israeli residents.
The 169,000 gross ton ship was built by Meyer Werft and delivered to Royal Caribbean at the end of March, about six months behind schedule due to the pandemic. The cruise ship had made her way to Haifa, where she arrived for the first time on April 21. She had sailed to Cyprus but according to AIS data had been in the anchorage at Haifa since May 7.
The cruises from Israel were one of the programs Royal Caribbean International announced as part of its plans to resume sailing in the summer of 2021. The other programs, included an older ship, the Jewel of the Seas, scheduled to sail from Cyprus this summer for cruises to Greece. Two of the line’s other ships are scheduled to sail from the Bahamas and Bermuda while a fifth ship continues to sail from Singapore, with increased restrictions due to a resurgence of the virus in the city-state. Twenty of the cruise line’s 25 cruise ships remain idle and with the uncertainty with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the timing for cruises to restart from U.S. ports, the details of Odyssey of the Seas’ entry into the U.S. market were not immediately announced.