P&O Cruises has scrapped its entire Dubai and Arabian Gulf 2019-20 winter programme amid rising fears for British-flagged vessels sailing in the region.

The cruise line’s president Paul Ludlow said it had sought advice from “external authorities” having been monitoring the friction between the West and Iran before announcing the decision.

Last month, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, which lies between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

The majority of the 49 departures between October to next March on Oceana were due to pass through the Strait.

All bookings will be cancelled and guests will be given a full refund.

Ludlow said: “The increased tension in the region highlighted by the attacks on tankers in the strait and the detention of a British-flagged tanker by the Iranian authorities means as a British company flying the Red Ensign it is not advisable for us to maintain our planned Dubai and Arabian Gulf programme this winter season.

“We have therefore taken the unusual step of withdrawing Oceana from the region for the upcoming season.

“Whilst we appreciate our guests will be disappointed, the safety of our guests and crew is absolutely paramount and given our UK status, coupled with the uncertainty in the region, we have had to make this difficult decision.”

Strait of Hormuz

New itineraries for Oceana are currently being put together and will be put on sale from 9am on August 20.

The line added that the new programme will include ex-Southampton departures to Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands, plus a 35-night pre-Christmas sailing to the Caribbean.

Affected passengers have also been given an exclusive offer on 2020-21 Dubai and Arabian Gulf cruises and well as this season’s Caribbean fly-cruises.

Following the announcement, MSC Cruises reacted by offering P&O passengers whose bookings had been cancelled £50 per person onboard credit.

Poster, MSC Cruises, August 2019

The offer is valid on Emirates and Caribbean sailings between November 1, 2019, and October 30, 2020.

P&O launched its first Arabian Gulf programme this year, basing Oceana in Dubai for a series of fly-cruises to destinations such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Oman from January and April.

P&O Cruises launched a new advert in March starring comic Rob Brydon to promote its 2020-21 Arabian Gulf programme.