PBS NewsHour


Waiting to sail, idled cruise ships still attract visitors

Until the coronavirus pandemic struck, the cruise industry was enjoying a boom period, generating $150 billion worldwide per year. Now most ships have been grounded for months. But while operators wait to learn when they can sail again, the luxury floating hotels have become a stationary summer attraction in the United Kingdom. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from England.

AIRED: September 28, 2020 | 0:05:39

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cruise ship companies are waiting to learn this Wednesday from the Centers for

Disease Control whether their billion-dollar vessels can soon set sail again.

They have been prohibited from cruising since the start of the pandemic, and hundreds of

the luxury floating vessels, part hotel, cabaret, buffet, and amusement park, float at anchor

and idled.

But, in Britain, these boats cruising to nowhere have become quite the attraction.

From Weymouth in Southern England, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

MALCOLM BRABANT: For the British, COVID signaled, goodbye, West Indies, hello, Weymouth, not

just for potential passengers, but also the ships themselves.

JENNY DAY, Cruise Fan: It's a crying shame. It's quite sad to see them all out there,

knowing people are missing holidays. And will they ever get back to normal?

MALCOLM BRABANT: Jenny Day has come to see a ship that once transported her to the Norwegian

fjords. She's anxious to regain her sea legs.

JENNY DAY: For normal working people, we save all year at working to have your two-weeks

or three-weeks holiday. And a cruise is just pure luxury, and it's a luxury that normal

working can't afford normally.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Fifty miles to the east is a boat in demand. The cruise ships' bind is

a bonus for skipper Paul Derham.

PAUL DERHAM, Captain: The moral of the story is try to take every opportunity.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Normally, the Mudeford Ferry serves an intercoastal waterway, but, this

summer, the so-called ghost ships have been an irresistible diversion.

PAUL DERHAM: We first advertised it when we came out of lockdown. We were a bit slow.

And I made an announcement to the passengers, anybody want to go and see any cruise ships

that are out in the bay?

And a load of hands went up. And we have been inundated with phone calls wanting to see

the cruise ships.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Derham spent three decades on a cruise ship bridge. The Aurora was his

last posting.

PAUL DERHAM: I have been everywhere from Mumbai to Melbourne. Now I'm back in Mudeford. And

to see my old ship, it gives a few pangs, I suppose.

MALCOLM BRABANT: The pain is far more acute for the world's 60 cruise operators.

When this commercial was shot last year, a record 30 million passengers were carried

on 350 ships, making this a $150 billion global business.

ACTRESS: Welcome aboard.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Before coronavirus struck, the cruise industry was enjoying a boom period.

The shipyards couldn't build them fast enough. And the industry was really confident about

getting new clientele from China and South Asia. But now?

ALEX DOWNES, Cruise Ship Consultant: I think it would be naive not to acknowledge that

a couple of companies have gone under during this time, and there's a risk that a couple

more may do so.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Speaking from Belgrade in Serbia, Captain Alex Downes, an independent

cruise consultant.

ALEX DOWNES: It's important to note that ships are still being purchased, ships are still

being built, contracts are still being signed.

And I think that's a real indicator that the cruise industry has a lot of self-confidence

in its ability to restart.

MALCOLM BRABANT: There were small steps in Italy last month, as passengers boarded a

ship for the first time since lockdown, after the government lifted its ban on cruising.

This ship didn't stray beyond Italian waters.

In Hungary, cruises along the River Danube have resumed. This liner cruises at three-quarters

capacity. And cleaning protocols on board have been intensified.

Kilian Weber from Switzerland was one of the first aboard.

KILIAN WEBER, Cruise Passenger: I don't think they booked the boat, like, fully. I think

there's still some cabins that they left open, so that it's safer. And then we have to wear

masks when moving. So it seems like it's a safe experience.

MALCOLM BRABANT: When the pandemic began, cruise ships earned a reputation as incubators

for the disease. Nevertheless, on the Mudeford Ferry, enthusiasm for cruising was abundant.

LOUISE GALLAGHER, Health Worker: Now I have seen these ships, it's given me the inspiration

to try that type of thing once the pandemic is over.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Louise Gallagher works in Britain's National Health Service, and is

hyperconscious of the risks.

LOUISE GALLAGHER: Personally, I don't fear the virus as much, because I think I would

probably only receive minor symptoms. But I am worried about what I may pass on to others,

more vulnerable people.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Jody Carter drove 200 miles just to catch a glimpse of the ship that gave

her such a memorable holiday five years ago.

JODY CARTER, Visitor: I just hope that something happens soon that sort of makes them be able

to go again, because I know passengers get the experience and joy that I got out of it.

MALCOLM BRABANT: American operators are hoping that the Centers for Disease Control will

lift the ban on cruising. They're promising to improve hygiene and to test all passengers

and crew before boarding.

Other measures are inevitable, says Alex Downes.

ALEX DOWNES: On existing ships, we will see some modifications, much like we see ashore,

with regards to social distancing and barriers.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Not everyone swoons about cruising. The ghost ships have upset environmentalists

concerned about emissions, damage to the seabed, and light pollution at night.

PAUL DERHAM: Perhaps they should do cruises to nowhere. I can see countries don't want

2,000 people walking down their high street who've come from wherever. Perhaps they could

do cruises to Norwegian fjords and not actually land anywhere.

MALCOLM BRABANT: But cruising still has an allure for the skipper.

PAUL DERHAM: I think I'd like to split my time halfway between the Mudeford Ferry and

have the winter on the Aurora in somewhere warm. That would be ideal.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Given the ghost ship's uncertain future, that remains something of a fantasy.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Poole Bay.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Malcolm always finds these fascinating stories.

Thank you, Malcolm.