Major cruise operators reveal how they are getting their ships ready to sail again
Cruise operators highlighted solutions for re-starting ships after the pandemic and explained why unity was key for the industry to recover, in Riviera Maritime Media’s Cruise ships: preparing to sail again webinar.
Sponsored by RINA, and part of Riviera’s Passenger Ship Webinar Week, the webinar, which took place on 29 April 2021, had on its panel Holland America Group director of design and operations My Nguyen, MSC Cruises leading advisor to the CEO Luca Matola, RINA marine research and development director Alessandro Maccari, Swan Hellenic Cruises chief executive Andrea Zito, and Virgin Voyages senior vice president - design Dee Cooper.
MSC Cruises has adopted a new ‘above and beyond’ health and safety operating protocol for its restart. Mr Matola highlighted the “main pillars” of the cruise operator’s health and safety protocol. “It is important the protocol is designed to adapt, be very flexible and to introduce new measures.
“Of key importance is that we test all guests at least once before boarding and mid cruise. The second pillar is an extension of this approach to the crew members.” Crew will be tested on board weekly.
Another pillar is elevated sanitation and cleaning measures, and Mr Matola emphasised, “ventilation is key, we have 100% fresh air through our HVAC system.” There will also be responsible social distancing. “We will reduce capacity on the ships, with more than 10 m2 per person in public spaces and simplify the experience for guests,” said Mr Matola. Other pillars include enhanced medical facilities, and that guests only go ashore as part of an MSC shore excursion.
Elsewhere, RINA has developed a new infection risk management system. Explaining why it was launched, Mr Maccari said, “After the outbreak of the pandemic we have had rules and guidelines issued by a variety of regulatory bodies, at national, international and regional level, advising cruise ship operators on infection prevention and control. These highlighted need for uniform management systems and standards to help to support, apply, validate and monitor procedures.”
As a result, RINA launched its infection risk management system that can be implemented in any organisation against the risk of spreading epidemics in crowded places, including ships and terminals. Mr Maccari explained it is a certification scheme based on validation of criteria and documents followed by verification on board. Certification follows the ISO systematic approach to management systems. Compliance with the health and safety management system verified by RINA is proved with a bio-safety trust certification management system, that entitles company to display the logo.
Furthermore, in June 2020 RINA introduced its Biosafe ship notation, focused on procedures to mitigate bio risks and apply new solutions and technologies. Mr Maccari said “It is a holistic goal-based notation giving shipyards and owners freedom to select the solutions they feel most appropriate.” This has been applied to over 100 ships, including cruise ships and hospital ships.
The Biosafe ship notation addresses options from ship system design, general arrangements and logistics of people, to recreational activities and routine and emergency training.
Meanwhile, Ms Cooper said, “Covid had a drastic impact on the cruise industry… We have all been working on the best way to look after the crew and our sailors, and make sure everyone has peace of mind from a health protocol perspective.”
She said, “This has been a joint perspective, we have all seen cruise ships around the world parked up, waiting to go back into service. Only together are we are going to be able to solve this and make sure that everybody feels safe to sail again. Excitingly, we have a few cruises out of the Bahamas in July. in North America we have CLIA and all cruise lines lobbying government to make sure we bring sailing back.”
Ms Cooper highlighted that Virgin Voyages had already invested in contactless purchasing, and from an infrastructure point of view, the ships do not have large dining halls or buffet restaurants. She said, “We made them smaller which controls crowds in spaces.” But, she said, “probably our biggest investment is the Atmos air system that helps us keep the air pure and clean on a vessel.”
She summed up, “The reality is that the world wants to go back cruising. It is fundamental for us as an industry to keep these ships safe, bring them back into service and manage Covid on board. We will not be naïve – incidents may happen but we have sectioned areas and protocols to deal with this as safely as we can. Let’s get these ships sailing again.”
Ms Nguyen said, “When this pandemic happened, our team gathered together to look at how this will affect physical spaces on board.”
She explained that she and her team have been looking at short term, mid-term and long-term initiatives. Short-term, she singled out how crew spaces were a very important priority. “These are below the water line and typically more confined with a lot of people, so ideas we have been discussing include having disinfection tunnels strategically placed as transition points between crew and guests to help minimise spread and adding extra handwash stations that are accessible in strategic places like elevator landings.” Other initiatives include looking at integrated pod seating to give the crew their own personal space in crew areas and to give some separation, Ms Nguyen said.
Medium term, she highlighted looking at outside spaces as “we recognise that these will be a highly coveted area”. Low-hanging fruit to think about includes pod furniture – high end cocoon type spaces, “would be welcomed by guests as they have their own space in public areas”. Other areas include more towel stations so guests do not have to walk as far and giving guests personal double-cushion lounges so guests can enjoy public spaces but feel they are in a bubble.
She added, “Lots of testing will be a new normal so we have been discussing adding wellness kiosks in strategic areas where people gather a lot and they can provide masks, sanitation wipes, temperature checks and create awareness.”
Long term, thinking outside of the box, she suggested another sector offering private staterooms could be created, allowing interior staterooms to be turned into private wellness rooms, “embracing the fact that the design is a cocoon of personal space.”
Ms Nguyen emphasised, “We encourage all vendors and contractors to innovate – it’s going to take a village and we all need each other to innovate for the future of cruising.”
Mr Zito highlighted the importance of vaccinations. “I have great hopes that with vaccinations we can effectively tackle this, this is a fantastic industry.” He added, “When it comes to safety, health and security, we are highly interactive. It is not a competition. We share a lot of information and we know that reputation is key. If something happens to any of us, it will affect the whole industry. The safety and risk assessment culture are so high, it is a highly safety-regulated industry, we all do what is required by law and more. “There is a lot to do and a lot to learn, but we will come out of this stronger.”
Mr Maccari emphasised, “Teamwork and communication are the key for a quick recovery for the industry.”
Ms Cooper said, “As a cruise industry, we are ready for business and keeping crew and sailors safe.”
Ms Nguyen said her takeaways include, “The more unified our voice is as an industry… the quicker we can catapult to recovery. We are such a resilient industry; the bookings are really impressive and indicate guests are ready to cruise when they feel safe.”
The webinar audience was asked a series of poll questions. First up was, Which part of the health and safety protocol is most important for you? The majority, 55% said universal screening for guests and crew. 38% said a reliable contingency response. Only 3% chose keep the safe bubble, offering only protected excursions.
Next, the audience was asked, Do you believe the protocols the cruise industry is putting in place enjoy the confidence of the sailing public? The response was positive, with 58% saying they were basically confident and 19% saying they were confident. 22% thought sailing was unlikely to resume before 2022. Only 1% thought that sailing was unlikely to resume before 2025, and 0% cited no longer cruising.
Asked, Do you think social distancing will remain in place in a year’s time? 50% said likely, 20% said certainly and 30% said unlikely.
Asked, In a year, how likely is it that cruising will only be an option for vaccinated passengers? 29% said certainly, 47% opted for likely, 22% said unlikely and 2% said no chance.
Elsewhere, a huge 81% agreed with the statement, infection risk management on ships should target a variety of potential threats, while 19% said it should specifically target Covid-19.
Asked whether healthcare and infection prevention on board are essential, operational, legislative or design issues? 70% said operational, 16% said legislative and just 14% said design.
Finally, testing on board will probably become routine. Asked how often they thought it would be carried out, 51% of the webinar audience said every three days, 28% said weekly, 15% said daily, 2% said monthly and no one voted for never.
Cruise ships: preparing to sail again webinar panel:
Holland America Group director of design and operations My Nguyen
MSC Cruises leading advisor to the CEO Luca Matola
RINA marine research and development director Alessandro Maccari
Swan Hellenic Cruises chief executive Andrea Zito
Virgin Voyages senior vice president - design Dee Cooper