Major operators such as Hurtigruten, Poseidon, Quark and other providers of Antarctic expedition cruises have finally cancelled their season due to COVID. Some others have not yet abandoned their plans and want to make a situational decision. But what is the state now and which providers do what?
COVID-19 has kept its grip on the entire expedition cruise industry since spring 2020. Almost everything came to a standstill within a short time, guests, guides and ship crews came home only with the greatest difficulty. Apart from a major incident, however, the industry luckily was spared from major outbreaks on board at the beginning. After the Arctic season for the vast majority of providers of expedtion trips could not take place due to lockdowns, entry bans and other measures, hope was up for the Antarctic season. Preparations started and some suppliers initiated test drives with new safety and hygiene concepts and protocols on board. But ththose runs went either way and quickly revealed weaknesses in the considerations and measures. As a result, the first operators soon took a closer look at their Antarctic plans. The first postponements and cancellations started to drop in. Nevertheless, in September, less than two months before the start of the season, most providers stuck to their plans. They were driven by the easing and falling numbers, which raised hopes of an soon-to-be improvement of the situation.
But now the reality has changed again, and the numbers are rocketing sky-high almost everywhere in the world where they had gone down before, especially in Europe. The much-vaunted second wave is currently rushing across the entire European continent. This has led to further strict measures, travel restrictions and quarantine measures for arrivals. But even in South American countries, which were supposed to be the gateways to Antarctica, the numbers are still enormously high. While Argentina and Chile are still struggling with high infection rates and therefore keep their borders closed to foreigners at least until the end of October (as of 19 October), New Zealand has its COVID problem under control, is again considered COVID-free and keeps it that way by clsoing its borders. The same as for South American countries applies also to Australia.
The situation is a nightmare for tour operators and shipping companies, who should have sent their ships on their way weeks ago to reach the ports in the southern hemisphere. Almost every day, situations, regulations and (emergency) laws change. It is hardly surprising that little is reported by the industry about concrete travel, safety and hygiene measures. But in the background, the gears were running and running at full speed. In addition to technical and health measures, it is also the accounting and bookinig problems and questions that had to be solved. Finally, however, numerous providers, including the major operators, have cancelled their trips for this season and rebooked guests onto the next season.
But the exact state of play is somewhat confusing due to the number of operators and coomunication. Therefore, we have compiled a list of operators for Antarctic expedition cruises and entered their current status for the 2020/21 season. We stick to the list of IAATO members and have focused on the providers of ship and yacht trips, as they offer the majority of trips. We also use their official information, which can be found on the websites. These are either official cancellations or the list of planned trips. We have deliberately refrained from asking individual providers about their plans to ensure that only official information is shared with the public.
We will try to keep the list up-to-date, depending on the availability of the information.
In addition to the question of whether a provider will carry out its travels at all, the round trip is also an issue. However, this does not depend on the operators, but on the airlines and the destination countries. At the moment, Argentina, Chile, Australia and New Zealand do not allow foreigners in, even with quarantine periods and valid COVID tests. The Falkland Islands are also discussing whether to tighten entry requirements to take account of the new situation in the UK and the world. Airlines are pushing for a rapid opening and are ready to face the challenge of COVID-19 travel. But where there is no opening up of countries, all concepts are useless.
We would like to point out that both the list and the content are without guarantee for completion and represent the information status of the respective day. The content of the websites is a matter of the website operators and we reject any claim to the correctness of the content of the websites.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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