MSC Cruises has confirmed plans to resume sailings in the Mediterranean this month.

Flagship MSC Grandiosa will launch seven-night cruises in the Western Med from August 16 and MSC Magnifica seven-night itineraries in the Eastern Med from August 29.

However, the two ships will initially be open solely to residents of Schengen-area countries, meaning UK passengers are excluded.

MSC Cruises announced the two ships’ launch itineraries today, but confirmed all other cruises in the Mediterranean from August 16 through to October 31 have been cancelled.

The company also announced the cancellation of US cruises up to and including October 31, in line with cruise association Clia’s announcement of the suspension of cruises to this date, and the cancellation of all Far East cruises up to and including October 26.

MSC Cruises chief executive Gianni Onorato hailed the restart, saying: “We are very pleased to be able to start welcoming back guests on board two of our most-popular ships in the Mediterranean, the region where our roots are and we have long been market leaders.”

The MSC Grandiosa will offer cruises calling at Genoa, Rome Civitavecchia, Naples, Palermo and Valetta.

MSC Magnifica will depart from the Italian ports of Bari and Trieste and call at the Greek ports of Corfu, Katakolon and Piraeus.

The company said the restart had been made possible by the development of comprehensive health and safety protocols which had been approved by national authorities along the two ships’ itineraries.

The new operating protocol “meets and goes beyond guidelines provided by key international and regional regulatory and technical bodies, as well as regulations set forth by the governments in the countries in which MSC Cruises ships operate”, MSC Cruises said in a statement.

“Additionally, the independent maritime certification corporation RINA has verified the protocol meets European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) Guidance, which incorporates additional health standards.”

MSC Cruises executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago said: “During the pause in operations we focused on developing a comprehensive operating protocol that builds upon already stringent health and safety measures.

“We have worked closely with EU-level, national health and other authorities from the countries MSC Grandiosa and MSC Magnifica will call at along their Mediterranean itineraries to develop a comprehensive set of procedures to protect the health and safety of all passengers as well as to ensure that local communities feel comfortable welcoming our guests.

“The new procedures include Covid-19 testing for all guests and crew prior to embarkation, protected shore visits at each destination only with an MSC Cruises excursion and the introduction of a Covid Protection Plan for further peace of mind for guests.”

MSC added: “The itineraries have been designed according to the accessibility of ports, reducing where possible the need for guests to use public transport or flights.”

It said passengers who are Schengen residents and booked on any MSC Cruises itinerary up to October 31 can transfer their bookin to MSC Grandiosa or MSC Magnifica, subject to any restrictions imposed by the Italian authorities, and receive up to three complimentary shore excursions depending on the category they book.

Alternatively, they can accept a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) for use on any ship with any itinerary sailing through to December 2021.

Customers resident in Schengen countries who already have an FCC voucher from a previous cancelled cruise can use the voucher on the two ships, also taking advantage of up to three complimentary shore excursions.

Non-Schengen customers will automatically be eligible for an FCC that can be used to transfer their bookings at no cost to any ship on any itinerary through to December 2021.

The announcement followed confirmation of MSC Cruises programme for winter 2020-21 and summer 2021, commencing in late October and running through to November next year.

The programme includes itineraries across all the regions traditionally served by MSC Cruises.

Onorato said: “We will closely monitor updates and new guidelines at a global, European and national level and continuously review and update our health and safety.

“With time, and in line with the development of the health situation ashore, we are hoping to be able to relax certain measures while continuing to ensure the health and safety of everyone on board our ships.”