Cruise lines with Libya on their itineraries are in the familiar position of putting contingency plans into action as unrest spreads throughout the North African nation.
Last year, Libya again dropped its ban on American tourists after it agreed with the U.S. to an expanded-trade arrangement, prompting both Azamara Club Cruises and Crystal Cruises to add Libya calls to their late 2011 and 2012 schedules.
A Crystal spokeswoman said today that if Libya is still experiencing unrest during its first call there in November, the line's contingency would be to revert to its original itinerary, which instead included a maiden call to Koper, Slovenia.
The turmoil in North Africa cost small-ship line Voyages to Antiquity two cruise-tour packages to the region.
In late January, the company chose to cancel two cruise and tour itineraries to the region scheduled for the spring on its only ship, the 350-passenger Aegean Odyssey. The cruises included multiple stops in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
Those packages, with roundtrip departures from Cairo on March 26 and April 4, were originally replaced with a single new cruise that bypassed Egypt and Tunis but retained the stops in Libya.
This week, with the outbreak of violence in Tripoli, the line canceled the new cruise, as well, and will instead keep the ship out of service until its next scheduled cruise-tour, an April 15 Rome-to-Venice itinerary.
Mitchell Schlesinger, vice president of sales and marketing for Voyages to Antiquity, said that it was too late to create another itinerary and instead is rebooking those passengers if they want to travel during 2011 and providing discounts for 2012 cruises.
He said the line is not scheduled to return to the Red Sea or North Africa again until late November and that right now the line is keeping those cruises on its schedule and monitoring the situation.
"There are always contingency plans for potential itinerary interruptions," Schlesinger said. "Obviously, the current events in the Middle East have challenged that planning as protests have spread from country to country."
He said that those nations are "fully aware of the significant value of tourism" and that the cruise line is in constant contact with its partners in each applicable country to "discuss the opportunity to resume our visitations."
Other cruise lines, such a Compagnie du Ponant and Swan Hellenic, and have not yet decided what to do about their North Africa calls in the coming months.
Libya has always been an intriguing but unstable destination for cruise companies looking for unique ports of call in the Mediterranean.
As the Arab nation's relationship with the U.S. has fluctuated, so has its policy toward cruisers. In 2005 and 2006, Libya sent mixed messages to cruise lines, issuing them visas but at one point not letting Silversea Cruises' U.S. passengers enter the country with visas once the ship had docked there.