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Cruise In for a Bruising

There has been much in the press lately about how cruise ships have been affected by COVID-19, from stories of crew stranded on at least 50 ships with Covid-19 outbreaks, limited medical equipment, some without pay, to Bernie Sanders questioning whether certain cruise lines deserve a bail out.


At MariTrace, we decided to look at our own data to quantify the effect of COVID-19 on the cruise industry and to determine the most effected regions.


Firstly, we examined the historical data to see what we would generally expect at this time of year. Over the last 4 years (2016-2019) there have been very clear seasonal trends in the movement of cruise ships.

As can be seen, during the winter months we record approximately 100 cruise ships arriving in ports per day, however in the summer months this increases by 50% to around 150 cruise ships arriving in ports per day. Using our own interface, we can look more closely at this data to reveal the whereabouts of the ports that these vessels are calling at.


From November to April the bulk of cruise ship port calls are in the Caribbean while the summer months see activity switch to southern Europe during the start and end of the season, and northern Europe and northern America during the middle of the season. So, broadly speaking, we would expect to see cruise activity in southern Europe picking up about now, and activity in northern America and northern Europe picking up as of next month while the Caribbean experiences its seasonal slowdown.


The predictability of cruise ship movements can be seen in the above graph which shows the count of cruise ships arriving at ports worldwide.


Indeed, even the year on year % differences don't show too much deviation when comparing a given month with the same data for the previous year.


Now let's look at the same data from 2019 onwards, but this time let's include the most recent figures.


Around 5 cruise ships arrived at a port on 26th April 2020.


There is no area that has escaped the trend.



Overall in April we have so far seen a 95.3% drop in cruise ship activity compared to the same time the previous year. And that may not be the end of the problem. While some people might point to at least some activity, even if it's very small, that activity does not mean that the vessels are commercially active. Rather they could be repositioning sans passengers just to weather the storm.


The problem, of course, is not just related to the cruise lines themselves, but the myriad industries in and around ports that rely on those vessels moving. Those industries in southern Europe who would normally be expecting a peak in economic activity as a result of the cruise ships calling at port will be the first to be hit. Should these vessels not start moving by the end of this month then this fallout will begin to affect northern Europe and northern America as well.


While it may be true that the Caribbean is one of the regions least affected by COVID-19, which came at the end of their cruise season, what little activity they would expect at this time of year has also been severely affected. The above chart shows the activity in just the Caribbean as compared with the same months in previous years.


In short, there is no one region of cruise ship activity that is broadly unaffected by COVID-19 and unless these vessels start moving soon, the already woeful economic activity worldwide will be compounded by a lack of cruise tourism.