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Wish you were here...? Cruise firm sets sail for world's trouble spots

  • @SimonCalder

Sedate ports of call such as Gibraltar and Valletta are being displaced on Europe's navigation charts by a trio of strife-torn cities: Algiers, Beirut and Belfast. Britain's biggest holiday company, TUI, has set a course for conflict zones for its Thomson Cruises brand for next year.

With appetites for safe European favourites apparently sated, the firm has decided to venture to two Mediterranean ports that have not been regular cruise-ship calls since the 1970s. From next summer, passengers will be able to explore Algiers, where the Foreign Office currently urges British tourists to "exercise extreme caution at all times", adding: "You should arrange, if possible, to be met on arrival in Algiers."

The man who devised the itinerary that includes the Algerian capital is Neil Duncan, of Thomson Cruises. He insisted: "The tours and visits to the city will be absolutely fine, and customers will be very safe going there."

However, he confirmed that, if trouble flares in the region, contingency plans include switching to safer ports of call in Tunisia or Morocco.

Despite Lebanon's civil war being long over, the country and its capital are still regarded as high risk by the Foreign Office, which warns of "a general threat from terrorism" and says: "Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers."

Thomson, which is Britain's third-largest cruise company, has also devised a new Black Sea itinerary that includes the battlefields of the Crimea. It is aimed at military historians and tourists who are keen to visit a region previously off-limits to mainstream package holidays.

The ship departs from Marmaris in Turkey and visits the naval base of Sevastopol, close to the site of the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854, when British cavalry led by Lord Cardigan fought Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. "The Black Sea is an area that cruisers are fascinated with and they want to experience," said Fraser Ellacott, managing director of Thomson Cruises. Passengers will be offered excursions to the "Valley of Death". Also on the circuit is Constanta on Romania's Black Sea coast, from which excursions will run to the land-locked capital, Bucharest. The city of Belfast, where RMS Titanic was completed a century ago, features on an around-the-UK itinerary. Shore excursions are likely to feature the Nationalist and Republican murals on the Shankhill and Falls Roads, testimony to the Troubles that tore Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland apart.

The main claim to fame of Torquay, another port on the round-Britain itinerary, is as the location that inspired the tourism-related TV comedy, Fawlty Towers.

After two decades of steady growth and robust profits, cruising is experiencing severe turbulence following the shipwreck of Costa Concordia in January, which killed more than 30 passengers and crew.

Since the Italian liner struck rocks and capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio, the "new to cruise" market on which the industry depends to fuel further expansion has dwindled.