Viking Cruises is suspending all ocean and river operations for more than a month due to “travel complications” caused by the spread of coronavirus.

The unprecedented measure affects all sailings from today (Thursday) until April 30.

The company, which carries 500,000 passengers a year and employs 10,000 staff, plans to resume operations on May 1.

Viking chairman Torstein Hagen made the announcement on the line’s website.

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He said the decision had been made “with a heavy heart” but “with present circumstances what they are, we are unable to deliver the high-quality Viking experience for which we are known”.

In a message to passengers, Hagen said: “I am sure you recognise that Covid-19 has made travel exceedingly complicated.

“An increasing number of ports, including Venice, Monte Carlo and Bergen, have temporarily closed to cruise ships; major attractions such as the Vatican and other museums have been closed; and some countries are imposing restrictions on public gatherings and visitors.

In recent days we have had an experience where a river cruise guest in south-east Asia was exposed to Covid-19 while in transit on an international airline. While this guest is not exhibiting symptoms, she has been placed in quarantine. Separately, the remaining 28 guests will also be quarantined.”

He added that the situation has now become such “that operating as a travel company involves significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish the travel experiences for which our guests have been planning”.

Hagen said: “As a private company with strong finances, we do not have to worry about quarterly profit expectations – and that flexibility allows us the ability to do what is best for our guests and our employees, as we have always done.

“Therefore, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend operations of our river and ocean vessels embarking from March 12 to April 30, 2020 – at which time we believe Viking will be in a better place to provide the experiences our guests expect and deserve.”

Viking passengers offered a refund or future cruise voucher

Passengers are being offered a refund or a future cruise voucher valued at 125% of all money paid, valid for two years.

“For additional flexibility, if you are unable to use your voucher, we will automatically send you a refund equal to the original amount paid to Viking after the voucher expires,” Hagen said. “These future cruise vouchers will also be fully transferable.”

He maintained that the line continued to plan for expansion with the launch of expedition journeys to the Arctic and Antarctica, as well as North America’s Great Lakes in early 2022.