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John Honeywell (‘Captain Greybeard’) has this morning revealed in his blog that MSC are to leave the UK in 2015. For the last couple of years, and including this year, they’ve based MSC Opera, one of their smaller ships, in Southampton for the summer season. The latest announcement is that they won’t be doing so in 2015. You can read John’s blog entry here.

I’m curious as to why they’ve decided this. Perhaps it’s because they simply weren’t getting sufficient sales – in a market where not only P&O but also Celebrity and Royal Caribbean are competing aggressively for the mass-market ex-Southampton business it must be hard for ships such as MSC’s Lirica class to make an impression. That’s just a supposition, however – I have no data to support it. There is another possibility, and that is that MSC has a Venice problem in 2015. This year they have two of their biggest ships, MSC Preziosa and MSC Fantasia, scheduled to do 7-night cruises out of Venice. Each ship will do 30 such cruises, following 7-night itineraries. MSC Fantasia departs every Saturday, and MSC Preziosa departs on Sundays. So why do they have a problem? – well, these two ships are both members of their Fantasia class, at 137,000 gross tons their biggest; and also at 137,000 tons, well in excess of the forthcoming 96,000 ton limit for ships passing through the Giudecca canal in Venice. This will come into force in November this year, so after that date these two ships will not be able to sail in or out of Venice. As I’ve reported before, the authorities are supposed to be dredging a deep channel to the cruise terminal from a southerly direction which will allows ships of any size access to it, but there’s no word yet on when that will actually be ready, and it now seems unlikely that it will be done in time for the 2015 cruising season. Indeed, given that the plans for that season have to be made in time for the brochures which will be published this spring, the lines have to play safe and assume that their biggest ships will be unable to visit Venice in 2015.

So MSC have to rearrange their fleet next year and undertake their ex-Venice programme with smaller ships. They could use the Musica class – at 89,000 tons they come below the limit – but it’s also the case that after the stretching operation that all of the Lirica class will experience, their capacity will also be increased to 65,000 tons and their capacity will increase by 600 passengers. Two of the class (MSC Armonia and MSC Sinfonia) will have had this operation done by early spring 2015, so they would be available. Perhaps that’s the plan? Or perhaps they will use the Musica class ships, and back-fill the itineraries those ships are doing this year with the enlarged Lirica class? We’ll see.

Finally, our first cruise was on MSC Sinfonia. I reviewed it here; although re-reading it, I don’t think I’d be quite as generous in my comments if I was to do the same cruise now. That said, it was nine years ago. But obviously it made a big impression – we’ve cruised every year, often twice a year, since then.

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