Coronavirus-hit Princess Cruises to suspend operations

Princess Cruises, the operator of two ocean liners that were quarantined after they became hotbeds for coronavirus infections, said on Thursday it would suspend the voyages of all its 18 ships for two months.

The suspension upends an industry already struggling with cancellations following the outbreak, and comes after Finland's Viking Line temporarily paused operations of its river ships and ocean liners around the world.

"Never ... in the 20 years I have served in this company, have we been tested in ways we have been tested over the past 40 days," Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, said on the operator's official YouTube channel, addressing the decision to suspend operations.

"This is perhaps the most difficult decision in our history."

Shares of parent Carnival Corp, which have already lost over half their value since the start of the year, tumbled a further 18%. Rivals Royal Caribbean Corp and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings were also down.

Chad Wolf, acting head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, commended the two cruise lines' decisions and called on others in a statement to do the same "until appropriate safety measures are put in place."

The crisis at Princess Cruises deepened last week after one of its ships, The Grand Princess, was denied entry to San Francisco Bay en route back from Hawaii as authorities learned some passengers and crew had developed flu-like symptoms.

An initial round of testing found that 21 people, mostly crew, had been infected. At least one couple who took the cruise has sued the company, seeking over $1 million in damages for emotional trauma.

Passengers from an earlier cruise to Mexico aboard the same ship had also tested positive for coronavirus.