Visa rule alters cruise itineraries

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NEW YORK -- Russia as of Aug. 27 enforced visa requirements for passengers sailing to the country on several short cruises from Finland.

Passengers on cruises run by companies such as Silja Line and Kristina Cruises had been exempt from obtaining Russian tourist visas -- usually mandatory, at a cost of up to $100 -- if they went ashore on organized excursions, said officials from the companies.

In response to the policy change, Silja rerouted two-night Baltic cruises on the Silja Opera -- originally set to sail to St. Petersburg twice weekly through Jan. 6 -- to Riga, Latvia, and Kristina canceled 100 scheduled shopping cruises on the Kristina Brahe to Vyborg, Russia.

The move also puts Kristina Cruise's plans for seven two-night excursions to St. Petersburg on the Kristina Regina next year in jeopardy, said BJ Mikkelsen, vice president of marketing for the company.

But Mikkelsen predicted a quick about-face. "Russian merchants know how much money is poured into the country by all these cruises."

The Russian Foreign Ministry laid the blame on Silja, claiming in an official statement that the company had not requested special visa-free status for the one-stop cruises, which under Russian law and international practice would not qualify for a visa waiver.

International cruises calling at at least one other foreign port, in addition to Russian cities, aren't affected by visa requirements, Mikkelsen said.

Silja rebooked all Russia-bound passengers on the Riga route and is refunding advance payments for St. Petersburg shore excursions; the line is represented by Norwegian Coastal Voyage in New York.

Kristina Cruises distributors include Borton Overseas, Minneapolis; Scanam World Tours, Cranbury, N.J.; and Nordique Tours and Scantours USA, both of Los Angeles.

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