As U.S. Cruises Resume, Operators Equip Ships With Contact Tracing Technology

Cruise lines, whose US operations have been suspended for more than a year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, are betting on technology to help keep passengers safe when they finally start leaving US ports this summer.

Royal Caribbean Group,

MSC Cruises and Virgin Voyages are among cruise lines seeking smartphone apps, wearable devices, artificial intelligence and other technologies to keep passengers at bay, reducing the risk of airborne transmission of the virus and allows contact tracing if someone gets sick. .

“All of this technology contributes to health and safety during return to service,” said Jay Schneider, senior vice president of the Royal Caribbean Group and director of product innovation.

Large cruise ships, capable of accommodating 5,000 or more passengers, have proven to be a favorable setting for the spread of Covid-19 during the early days of the pandemic. From now on, cruises will have the advantage of targeting a population with access to the vaccine, although there is no guarantee that every passenger will be vaccinated.

Royal Caribbean, which owns and operates the Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises brands, recently developed a wrist device, the “Tracelet”, to facilitate contact tracing. Integrated with a Bluetooth-enabled chip, the Tracelet can record when a guest is within 6 feet for 15 minutes of other people on a ship, the company said. The Royal Caribbean website states that all passengers and crew must wear a Tracelet.

In the event that a passenger is diagnosed with Covid-19, the ship’s security team can access data on the device to see a list of people the sick person has been in contact with. Reporting and data tools that process contacts and generate reports for tracing purposes were developed by the company.

Last week, the cruise line announced that it was postponing the scheduled departure of its Odyssey of the Seas to July 31 from July 3 after eight crew members tested positive for Covid-19.

Royal Caribbean has developed the “Tracelet” to facilitate contact tracing.


Royal Caribbean Group

MSC Cruises and Virgin Voyages, which also plan to depart from the United States in the coming months, are reusing some of their pre-pandemic technology to maintain social distancing between passengers.

A wristband and companion app designed to help MSC Cruises passengers pay for items and book events now serve as contact tracing and social distancing devices. Passengers looking for a little extra space can also use the app to see the approximate crowd in a theater by seeing how many spaces are still available to book a show.

“We just upgraded the platform that was already there… with the goal of minimizing direct person-to-person contact,” said Bud Darr, executive vice president of marine policy and government affairs at the parent company. MSC Group.

Virgin Voyages, which plans to launch its first US cruises from Miami in the fall, will maintain some 3,000 Wi-Fi readers on its ships that will be able to track people’s whereabouts through Virgin’s Sailor app. on their smartphones. In addition to helping people book activities, order food, and chat with friends, the system can be used to notify cleaning staff when guests leave their rooms, reducing person-to-person contact. .

Jay Schneider, Senior Vice President of Royal Caribbean Group and Director of Product Innovation.


Royal Caribbean Group

Virgin Voyages had previously turned to technology to enhance the cruise experience, said Andy Schwalb, director of marine and line technology. “As it turns out, [the technology] is also very good from a pandemic perspective, ”he said.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered its assessment of the risk of cruise ship travel to level three from level four for people not fully vaccinated. The CDC maintains the risk of contracting the disease is high because the virus appears to spread more easily among people near ships.

Ramesh Raskar is an associate professor at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which focuses on AI and imaging for health and sustainability. Cruise ship contact tracing has its advantages, he said, but the technology is not perfect.

For one thing, it doesn’t distinguish between environments, he said. People on an open deck are likely to be at less risk than they would be in a crowded casino, even from a distance. “This information is not captured over Bluetooth,” said Dr Raskar.

However, contact tracing technology has already been put to the test.

Earlier this month, after two passengers sharing a room on a Celebrity Millennium ship departing from St. Maarten tested positive for Covid-19, the crew used closed-circuit images and matching software from AI-based models to determine which other passengers were inside. 6 feet of them for 15 minutes.

The cruise line has identified and tested these people. All the tests came back negative.

The closure of cruise lines during the pandemic had far-reaching economic consequences for U.S. ports. In this video, WSJ reporter Julie Bykowicz tours the once bustling Port Canaveral cruise terminal to learn more about the future of the industry. (Video of 03/22/21)

Write to John McCormick at [email protected]

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