Silversea Cruises announced that it has cancelled plans to base the 132-passenger expedition ship Prince Albert II in Tahiti next year, deciding instead to begin an Arctic cruise program on June 1.

Three Internet travel industry Web sites, a Los Angeles tour operator and a Tahiti tourism industry official who requested anonymity confirmed Silversea Cruises’ decision.

No one, including Silversea Cruises, explained why Tahiti is not longer included in next year’s Prince Albert II cruise program. However, the Tahiti tourism industry official said the reason was due to not enough forward passenger bookings for the Tahiti cruises due to the current global financial crisis.

The closest Silversea came to confirming that reason was a comment attributed to its president and CEO, Amerigo Perasso. Travel Mole and Travel Today reported from Australia Monday that Perasso said the new plans to operate the Prince Albert II in “Northern Europe, in easy proximity to several of our major markets (U.S., U.K. and Continental Europe), is all the more justified in the present economic times.”

The Silversea Cruises’ decision will have an important impact on Tahiti’s struggling tourism industry. With the scheduled end of the year departure of the 670-passenger Tahitian Princess, the Prince Albert II was the only new regularly scheduled cruise ship operation on the horizon for Tahiti.

The four InterContinental resorts in French Polynesia had an exclusive contract with Silversea for pre- and post-cruise stays for Prince Albert II passengers.

In the U.S., California tour operator Tahiti Legends and Silversea recently announced they had teamed up to provide an exclusive partnership. That called for a free night in an overwater bungalow at the InterContinental Resort Tahiti to passengers booking Vista or View Suites for any one of three different Prince Albert II cruise programs.

The Prince Albert II, the refurbished and modernized former World Discoverer II, was scheduled to spend six months based in Papeete beginning in late March. This was originally announced as a trial season. If it proved successful, it would mean the ship would cruise in French Polynesia waters for six months each year.

However, the Web site Seatrade Insider reported Monday that the Prince Albert II was no longer due to sail from Santiago, Chile, to Easter Island and then to Papeete, arriving in late March to begin a program of 16 voyages.

Although two Australian tourism Web sites and e-mail newsletters also reported Silversea’s decision to abandon Tahiti, only Seatrade Insider provided specific details about the Prince Albert II’s new schedule.

In Monday’s statement, Silversea President Perasso announced that the Prince Albert II is now scheduled to make “an exclusive journey through the Channel Islands, with select stopovers in Cornwall, Brittany and Normandy and another itinerary to some remote parts of Scotland and Ireland,” Seatrade Insider reported.

All three tourism industry Web sites quoted Perasso as saying, “I am confident that Prince Albert II’s revised 2009 deployment will be a great success, given the extremely positive response from our 2008 Arctic cruisers and the strong market demand for this type of product.

“With her ice-strengthened hull, Prince Albert II is quite naturally associated with polar sea ice regions, rather than other attractive, exotic destinations.”

Seatrade Insider reported that Karen Christensen, Silversea’s regional director for Australia and New Zealand, said people with bookings for the cancelled Tahitian itineraries will receive 100 percent refunds if they do not choose to transfer to any other 2009 Silversea sailing.

Christensen also was reported saying she believed many of the former Tahiti-bound passengers would want to book passage on the Papeete-Lautoka leg of the Silver Shadow’s Grand Pacific Voyage, which leaves Los Angeles on March 7.

The Prince Albert II had been scheduled to operate five 11-day Austral Island Adventures cruises, four 14-day Journeys to the Marquesas Islands and five 10-day Tuamotu Expeditions.