The cruise sector is struggling with the impact of Covid-19, but new protocols and technology promise to get it quickly back on track.
Cruising has been hit hard by the Covid crisis. Quarantined cruise liners and distressed passengers have made news headlines around the world – notably the plight of Ruby Princess, which saw 22 of its passengers die from the virus in March, as it lay off Australia.
Even now, when most cruise passengers have been safely returned from their ships back to dry land, an estimated 80,000 crew are still stranded aboard cruise liners, often with no pay.
Cruise companies, in turn, insist they can’t allow crews to disembark due to strict rules imposed by national health authorities. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, has issued a no-sail order for cruise ships operating in US waters until the end of July. The situation has forced most cruise companies to cancel sailings until at least August, with some, such as P&O Cruises, going further and cancelling trips until October.
A number of river and expedition cruises have, however, resumed sailings, helped by the fact their vessels carry much smaller numbers of passengers, contend with less complicated logistics, and have greater guest-space ratios.
In an effort to help the cruise sector get itself up and running once again, leading marine engineering firm Foreship has devised an initiative to limit the presence and spread of coronavirus aboard ships – Project Hygiea.
“There is no ‘silver-bullet’ solution for fighting virus in the cruise industry, explains Mattias Jörgensen, Foreship’s business development director. “But, by combining our sector expertise with the knowledge of medical professionals, we have been able to formulate a strategy that will tackle the crisis on four fronts – interception, prevention, mitigation and evacuation.”
Project Hygiea: Stages 1-4
Stage 1: aims to keep the biohazard off the ship
Ports will be designed for efficient interception, with technology installed for testing and measuring body temperature. If a vaccine becomes available, passengers will be screened for vaccination before being allowed to board the vessel.
Stage 2: preventing the virus from spreading
This means employing stringent hygiene measures and optimising spaces and routes to maintain a safe distance between individuals. Technology will be contactless and automated where possible to reduce transmission via surfaces. Crew will be trained in practices relating to sanitation and social distancing.
Stage 3: isolating the pathogen
This is done through quarantining and decontamination to mitigate its impact. Technology such as air treatment systems and medical facilities will be provided to support these efforts.
Stage 4: focus on preparing for the worst-case scenario
This is around critical incidents on board. Evacuation procedures will be put in place, with routes through the ship designed for speedy extraction, while emergency suits, capsules and craft will be made available.
The effectiveness of the steps will rely on a ‘Hazard and Operability’ (HAZOP) analysis, which will see Foreship collaborate with HAZOP vessel stakeholders in order to identify risk areas and develop solutions specific to their ship.
A feasibility study will also be used to determine how the solutions will manifest themselves on board and in port, followed by the required engineering work, installation, commissioning and verification.
“Passenger ship owners are striving to restore public faith in cruise tourism, says Jörgensen. “Our expertise in vessel design, refit, project management and lifecycle services puts us in a unique position to provide the bigger-picture solution they are looking for. Even at this early stage, we have seen a lot of interest in Project Hygiea – which promises to have a significant positive impact on the immediate future of the entire shipping industry.”
While the cruise sector continues to struggle with Covid, cruise destinations are continuing to draw up plans to deal with the impact of the cruise sector.
“Even before the pandemic we were looking at ways to reduce the negative impact of cruise ships visiting Palma,” says Iago Negueruela, minister of tourism of Spain's Balearic Islands. Initiatives included staggered arrivals, limiting shore excursions on certain days, and using apps to identify overcrowding hotspots so we could redirect cruise passengers to other areas of the city.
“In the future, we will reduce the number of cruise ship visits, ensure land excursion groups are smaller, and introduce strict sanitation protocols.”
Commercial outlook uncertain
However, according to Arnold Donald, CEO of the Carnival Corporation – which owns nine brands including Princess Cruises, Holland America and Cunard Line – the commercial outlook for cruising may be quite bleak.
“There will be an acceleration of retirement of ships because of the pandemic, there’s no question about that,” he says. “In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s highly probable we’re going to see some cruise ships scrapped as opposed to just moving to secondary or tertiary markets.”
Dennis O’Neill is a journalist.