The first cruise line to cancel cruises in March due to the Covid-19 crisis has now extended its suspension of operations until the end of the year.

All Viking Cruises departures will be suspended until December 31.

“If itinerary changes are required, impacted guests and their travel agents are notified directly by Viking guest services,” the company said.

Affected passengers are being offered a 125% future cruise voucher or a refund which needs to be applied for by August 24.

Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen said: “We are committed to maintaining the safest and healthiest fleet in the industry.

“We are fortunate to have a fleet of small, Norwegian-registered ocean ships with only 930 guests, and Switzerland-registered river ships with only 190 guests.

“We believe that our smaller ships – which feature spacious public areas and staterooms – provide a much safer environment than mega liners.

“We have always had the highest standards for health and cleanliness – and we are currently finalising additional protocols to make Viking safer, in co-operation with leading international experts. We will be sharing more information about this very soon.”

The line is continuing with planned fleet expansion of its fleet next year with the launch of its seventh ocean ship, Viking Venus, as well as a new vessel on the Mekong, Viking Saigon.

New expedition vessels, Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris, are due for delivery in 2022 to operate in Antarctica, the Arctic and North America’s Great Lakes.

Eighth ocean ship, Viking Mars, is also due to be introduced in 2022 alongside Viking Mississippi,Viking’s first ship on a US river.

Hagen said in a message to customers: “On March 11, when we became the first cruise line to temporarily suspend operations at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I would not have imagined that in August we would still not be sailing and that I would be writing this letter to you.

“Every day I am encouraged by the scientific advancements toward Covid-19 therapeutics and a vaccine.

“But as you well know, recent events have shown us that the recovery from this pandemic will be sporadic, and the ability to travel freely across borders remains some time away.

“As keen as we may be to get back to exploring, for now, international travel must wait.

“Just last week, on August 5, we celebrated our 23rd anniversary.

“Viking is a very different company today from when we started in 1997 with four river ships. But one thing has not changed in the last two decades. Since Viking’s very first day, our commitment to the safety and welfare of all those on board our vessels and to our mission – to deliver experiences that focus on the destination, allowing you to explore the world in comfort – has never wavered.

“I have said before that we will only sail again when it is safe to do so. We are a private, closely-held company, which means we do not have to rush the decision to return to service.”