By MINDY LUCAS
A cruise line company which specializes in small capacity passenger cruises with stops in Beaufort canceled its cruises to the city for the weekend.
American Cruise Lines, which has two itineraries that includes Beaufort as a stop, has cancelled cruises that were to take place on Saturday, March 14, said Alexa Paolella, public relations manager for the company.
When contacted earlier on Friday, March 13, Paolella said there were no plans “at the moment” to cancel cruises but contacted The Island News later to say the company had cancelled cruises for the weekend – an indication of just how quickly businesses and organizations are changing planned events and recreational activities in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
A ship from the cruise line could be seen in Beaufort as recently as Thursday, March 12, despite earlier travel advisories from both the U.S. Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control recommending that travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.
“… Because of the unusual nature of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the US government is advising US travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, to defer cruise ship travel,” the CDC stated. “Recent reports of COVID-19 on cruise ships highlight the risk of infection to cruise ship passengers and crew. Like many other viruses, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships.”
Asked if Saturday’s cancellations were in response to the outbreak, Paolella stopped short saying that “in general yes,” but that the company had experienced cancellations by passengers which affected their decision. Those passengers were given the option to select another cruise or the same itinerary at a later date, she said.
One of the ships will still dock at Waterfront Park on Saturday but with only a minimal crew and will not have any passengers, said Kathleen Williams, communications/ marketing manager for the City of Beaufort.
When asked earlier in the day about cruises to Beaufort, Williams said the city does not have the authority to prevent ships from the cruise line from stopping in Beaufort or disembarking passengers.
“That authority would come from the State of South Carolina, and/or DHEC,” she said.
Safe Harbor Marinas, which manages the Beaufort Marina, gave permission for the ship to dock, in coordination with Beaufort City Manager Bill Prokop, she said, so while visitors will still see the ship in port, there will be no passengers onboard.
Unlike larger cruise lines, which can carry thousands of passengers and visit foreign ports, American Cruise Lines specializes in domestic river and coastal cruises, and operates ships that only have a capacity of 100-200 passengers.
The company offers two cruises that feature stops in Beaufort. One, an 8-day trip called the “Historic South and Golden Isles Cruise,” stops in Charleston, Beaufort and Hilton Head before heading on to Georgia and Florida. Another, an 11-day “East Coast Inland Passage Cruise,” includes stops in Beaufort and Hilton Head before departing the state.
The company also sent a statement on Friday after being contacted earlier in the day:
“American Cruise Lines has implemented the Coronavirus Prevention Measures from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and we are actively monitoring the situation.We have adopted all current pre-screening measures and rigorous shipboard sanitation techniques. American will continue to update procedures and take all appropriate steps to ensure the safety of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit,” the statement read.
The next scheduled dates for cruises that include stops in Beaufort are March 22 and March 29, Paolella confirmed. As of Friday, those cruises were “still on” but added that additional changes to cruise schedules could be forthcoming “in light of circumstances.”