First French cruise ship takes to sea after confinement

Ship sails with strict Covid-19 protocols in place

20 July 2020
L’Austral ship which took 40 passengers on a cruise along the coast of France for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown ended
By Brian McCulloch

The first French cruise ship to take to the seas since confinement has returned to the port of Marseille after a one-week voyage along the French coast.

Operator Ponant is also running cruises from Nice, Bordeaux, Saint Malo and Le Havre.

Strict Covid-19 health protocols were in place, including passengers being asked to take a test prior to the cruise, having their temperature taken when they stepped onboard, having their hands disinfected also as they stepped onboard and luggage being disinfected.

Some cabins were set aside as “isolation wards” in case any passengers started displaying symptoms once onboard.

“The government allowed the restart of river cruises and sea cruises as long as there are no more than 250 people onboard,” Ponant spokeswoman Laure Foulatier told Connexion. “From that, we developed our own health protocols using the consultants Bureau Veritas, the Institut Hospitalo Universitaire Méditerranée Infection, and also tests developed by the Marseille fire brigade.”

A total 40 passengers were on the ship L’Austral for the cruise. In normal times the ship can take 264 and specialises in cruises to the South Pole.

Ms Foulatier said the company would stick to French cruises from French ports for now. Cruises along the French coast are mainly ship-bound, with short stops, mainly on islands, for passengers to walk along beaches and headlands.

It has also started a cruise around Iceland from Reykjavik.

Details of the health protocols - which start with passengers being asked to fill in a health questionnaire 45 days before the cruise, taking a test, being examined by company doctors, having baggage disinfected and passengers provided with masks and social distancing guidelines, and which end with a health follow-up after the cruise - are published in a leaflet.

Ms Foulatier said each cruise company has to draw up its own relaunch programme and submit it to port authorities.

The company Croisi Euope - which specialises in cruises along Europe’s inland waterways - is also reported to be resuming sailings. Its website is apparently taking bookings for a cruise down the Rhone from Lyon later this week and others of the Seine river and the Gironde estuary in August. But its spokesman said he was still on chomage partielle and could not give any information.

It also said on its website that it is using Bureau Veritas consultants to restart its business.

There were cases of ships being tied up to quays for weeks without anyone being allowed to disembark after Covid-19 cases were found onboard in the early months of the pandemic.

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