CRUISE fleet operators have taken a $40 billion (£30.2bn) hit because of the Covid-19 pandemic with many scrapping their older vessels, according to new research.

Global marine data firm VesselsValue (VV) said many major players are burning from $200 million (£151.2m) to $500m (£378m) to keep their operations afloat with more than 60% not underway, and they are now pinning their recovery hopes on a vaccine.

VV said operator Carnival had borrowed a record amount of almost $12bn (£9bn) in funding since March to preserve cash and increase liquidity.

Similarly, Royal Caribbean Cruises, another big player which was at an all-time high at the beginning of the year, secured around $5bn (£3.7bn) in loans and offered more than $3bn (£2.2bn) in bonds, as well as using credit holidays to defer repayments.

“Older assets are now only worth scrap value and companies are being forced into bankruptcy,” said VV.

A VV infographic charts the sector’s decline between January, when business had huge momentum starting the new year – “the quiet before the storm” – through to this month and the first hope of some recovery. VV said: “On the positive side, the recent news of a potential vaccine could be a shot in the arm for the cruise industry.

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“Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean enjoyed a well-needed uptick in their stock value.

“Also positive are the statistics from cruise companies showing that with the correct procedures and protocols in place, Covid-safe cruises can set sail.”

The lack of cruise ships has also dented the finances of their destinations.

One of Scotland’s most popular is Port of Cromarty Firth in Invergordon, which enjoyed its best cruise season in more than 40 years since the first luxury vessels sailed into it.

They accounted for 26% of its income last year, but chief executive Bob Buskie told The National things had changed in 2020: “Income from cruises for this year is zero, as no ships have come into the port due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“For 2021, it’s still too early to say what the season’s activity will look like. The port is working closely with the cruise industry and the Scottish Government on the planning for the safe return of cruise ships to the Highlands, as they play such a significant role in the tourism economy of the area.”