Innovative solutions are coming to prevent coronavirus transmission on ferries, but the passenger shipping industry needs to collaborate to minimise risk and return to a new normal way of working
Ferry operations have been detrimentally affected by the global Covid-19 pandemic with travel restrictions forcing many operators to scale back routes and passenger capacity.
Wasaline is among those ferry owners that has seen reduced business and capacity on its vessels. It operates ferries across the Gulf of Bothnia, between Umeå in Sweden and Vaasa in Finland.
Wasaline chief executive Peter Ståhlberg said the company had adapted operations on its ferries to minimise risk to passengers and crew from coronavirus.
But he is looking for more support from stakeholders in the passenger shipping industry and new innovations to cut the risk further. “We need action today to stop the virus from coming on board,” he said during Riviera Maritime Media’s Passenger ship projects and deliveries: adapting to a new normal webinar.
This was held in association with Cruise Ship Interiors Expo, Europe, on 25 September as part of Riviera’s Passenger Shipping Webinar Week.
“First of all, we have to find a new normal,” Mr Ståhlberg said. “Our industry has to work together to achieve this, and many of us are running out of time.”
Measures implemented on ferries so far reduce close contact with potentially infectious people passing coronavirus pathogens through droplet transmissions.
These include more hygienic behaviour, social distancing, wearing face masks, washing hands and cleaning surfaces “but this is not enough to keep the Covid-19 away” he continues.
“For more long-term measures, some technologies exist, some are under development, but there are still innovations needed,” said Mr Ståhlberg. “None of them alone will be the solution, but together they will reduce the risk of transmission.”
He thinks health and sanitation technology should work alongside operational measures to enable ferry operators to offer safer voyages industrywide.
“There are smart technologies on their way,” Mr Ståhlberg explained. “There are innovative solutions coming up for hygiene, materials, equipment, furniture and communications.”
This includes cleaning managed by data to prevent viruses and bacteria in hotspot areas; using blue light technology and catalytic coatings; and new mobile phone applications.
But when it comes to innovations and collaboration, Mr Ståhlberg said Covid prevention should start onshore then continue on board. “It is important to stop the virus ashore,” he said. “We are implementing new technologies and innovations in ports.” This will include auto-registering cars in the future.
“We have automated preboarding procedures like booking and automated ticket control. We also have clear instructions for the crew and passengers.”
On board and in terminals, there are Keep Your Distance signs and clear markings on the floors.
Wasaline trains its personnel on a continuous basis in hygiene, cleaning and safety procedures, and provides personal protection equipment. All staff in kitchens, restaurants and cafés wear plastic gloves for protection. “And all ready-made food is served wrapped in a safe way.”
Safety restrictions limit the number of passengers on Wasaline ferries to half of the maximum – “so there is plenty of space to keep their distance” said Mr Ståhlberg.
On its ferries, there is limited seating in restaurants, cafés and bars and the operator limits the number of people who can simultaneously be in the shops.
There are facilities to help passengers reduce the risk of transmissions. “Disposable gloves are available for passengers,” said Mr Ståhlberg. “Hand disinfection stations have been placed in all public areas on board and in the terminals.”
Extended cleaning in the terminals and on board has been introduced. There is thorough and frequent cleaning and disinfection of cabins, restaurants, shops and other public areas. “There is continuous disinfection of machines and contact surfaces,” Mr Ståhlberg explained.
“Protective screens have been set up at the information desk and in all checkouts to keep distance between travellers and staff.”
Wasaline had a new ferry on order at RMC Finland shipyard, to be named Aurora Botnia, and originally due for delivery in May 2021. It is making some interior design changes to improve its coronavirus safety prior to entering into operation.
“We have adapted what we could do with the shipyard,” said Mr Ståhlberg. This included some changes on the interior design and materials. “New manuals and checklists have to be made for coronavirus pandemic protection,” he said.
Passenger ship design changes
Tillberg Design of Sweden partner and executive director Fredrik Johansson said more complex and involved design changes can be implemented on newbuildings, but are harder on existing ships.
“There will be some layout changes with more hygiene and cleaning of existing ships,” he said. “The big changes will be on new platforms.”
Mr Johansson said these changes would follow new hygiene requirements, but come at a cost. “We have to comply with requirements, but this has long-term effects on profitability,” he said.
“We need to be looking at using space on board and being prepared. We need to work collectively in designing ships and operating them,” said Mr Johansson.
He said there will be changes to interior architecture of ferries and cruise ships in the future with “more effective and flexible ways to use the available space” and “careful layout planning for more personal space”. More durable and hygienic materials could be used, and improved embarkation functions could be implemented.
Mr Johansson said passenger ship operators will need to make further updates to medical and health check protocols, install more air purification and water treatment and redesign on board hospitals.
There would also need to be changes to back-of-house facilities and operations. For example, this would need to include new maintenance protocols for pandemic prevention; updated food service principles and preparation techniques; streamlined galley operations; optimised supply chains and updated crew rules.
Technology, digitalisation and automation developments
New technology developments can improve passenger safety and minimise coronavirus transmission on passenger ships. These could include:
(source: Wasaline and Tillberg Design)
View the Passenger ship projects and deliveries: adapting to a new normal webinar in full