MSC Cruises told port officials of 54 positive Covid cases on three Southampton sailings, new figures obtained by Shipmonk reveal

MSC Virtuosa in Southampton (Picture: Dave Monk)

Update: The figures in this story have been revised after Southampton City Council supplied data for a crucial missing week after I had published its response to a Freedom of Information request

MSC Cruises declared 54 positive Covid cases to Southampton port officials on three consecutive sailings last month, a Freedom of Information inquiry has revealed.

A total of 33 crew and 21 passengers were reported on MSC Virtuosa when it docked in the port on September 4, 11 and 14. A health officer boarded the ship after the first of these arrivals following concerns raised by passengers.

A total of 12,967 people were on the three cruises – 9,168 guests and 3,799 crew.

However, passenger groups have said the official numbers drastically understate the actual level of infection on the ship at the time, with claims of possible cases running to 100 or above. Regional press reports have linked at least one Covid-related death to the cruise, which also called at Portland, Liverpool and Greenock.

MSC Cruises promotional picture of the Covid measures it took on Italian sailings (Picture: MSC Cruises)

Figures supplied by Southampton City Council in response to an FOI request by this blog (see full table below) show that the first eight sailings by MSC Virtuosa from May 20 reported no positive cases at all, with passenger numbers ranging from 568 on the June 12 cruise to 1,072 when government restrictions on capacity were eased.

In the 16 weeks before August 21, there were only eight passengers and three crew that were reported as Covid cases, out of a grand total of nearly 46,000 people – a rate of 0.024 per cent, or one in 4,179 people.

The busiest cruise, on August 21, with 5,100 people on board (3,842 passengers and 1,258 crew), declared four cases (three guests and one crew member).

Following the port health officer’s visit on September 4, MSC Cruises agreed to tighten up measures on tests, facial masks and social distancing and return the buffet to one staffed by crew, rather than self-service. MSC Virtuosa has now finished its season of British itineraries.

The Swiss-based line has claimed a great success in the safe return of cruising, having carried more than 60,000 passengers on one ship alone – MSC Grandiosa – in Italy since August 2020, including many months before vaccinations were widely available. Ten ships in the fleet are now back in service.

A worker prepares to take a Covid test of an MSC passenger (Picture: MSC Cruises)

In a statement supplied to this blog on September 9, an MSC spokesperson said: ‘In connection with the current rise of Covid-19 cases in the UK, MSC Cruises has recently further strengthened its Health & Safety Protocol on board MSC Virtuosa during her UK sailings to manage the prevailing Covid-19 risks. 

‘This has included additional testing of both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests and crew, which has allowed us to identify suspect Covid-19 cases at the terminal during the pre-embarkation process and on board the ship. All have been identified and effectively managed in line with the protocol and in cooperation with relevant UK health authorities. 

‘This is yet another example of our protocol doing exactly what it was designed to do. The MSC Cruises Health & Safety Protocol is designed to keep our guests, crew and the communities our vessels call at safe, and its measures are sufficiently robust in the face of the current circumstances.’

The following day, Southampton City Council told me: ‘Southampton Port Health Services has been involved with the MSC Virtuosa since she resumed cruising. 

‘Any ship arriving into a Port Health Authority area is required to submit a Maritime Declaration of Health 12 hours in advance of arrival if there is any passenger or crew on board reporting symptoms of an infectious disease. MSC Virtuosa reported confirmed cases of Covid-19 on board as part of this declaration.

‘As a result, a Port Health Officer visited the vessel on September 4 and advised strengthening their controls on board. The ship cooperated fully, immediately implementing those suggested controls and was allowed to continue on its next planned cruise.

‘Southampton Port Health and Public Health England work very hard to assist in protecting public health both on board vessels and onwards into the local community.’

See also:

MSC Cruises tightened up Covid measures on MSC Virtuosa after Southampton port health officer raised passengers’ concerns

We’ll welcome children and unvaccinated adults on our round-Britain voyages starting on May 20, MSC Cruises announces

Cruise start dateCrewPax +ve crew +ve pax
May 201237 928 
May 241200 855 
May 281189 997 
June 11175 995 
June 51183 907 
June 121158 568 
June 191172 964 
June 261172 1072 
July 31159 1215 
July 101162 1085 
July 171194 1337 
July 241202 2896 
July 311205 3129 
August 71220 2954 
August 141232 3112 
August 211258 3842 
August 28*12553468813
September 41270 2340 15 
September 111274 3360 10 
*week missed out of original Freedom of Information Act request

9 thoughts on “MSC Cruises told port officials of 54 positive Covid cases on three Southampton sailings, new figures obtained by Shipmonk reveal

  1. The figures of positive cases I presume only refers to those tested on the ship and not after disembarking. 4 of our group tested positive immediately after the cruise and lots of others have also. On completing the covid form it asked for a postcode for where you had been for last 7 days but this was probably not linked to the ships positive cases.

  2. My wife and I were on the 4-11th September Virtuosa cruise. We both tested positive within days of leaving the ship, there can be no doubt we picked it up on the ship as there was minimal protection and significant overcrowding at times. We were also pinged several times by the NHS App while on board/
    MSC and the Port Authorities would not know about our infections as the NHS test and trace reporting system had no facility for reporting infection contracted on a a port to port cruise.
    At no time once on board were we tested by MSC and when we complained on the evening before we left the boat that we hadn’t been called for testing, we were told not to worry and it was too late.

  3. The average incubation period for covid-19 is 5-6 days. The vast number of people who contracted the disease on the ship would not have known until they got home. MSC figures for infections detected onboard is thefore irrelevant. Wonder why this isn’t mentioned?

    • It is mentioned that passengers claim the reported cases on board were a small fraction of the actual infections

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