The passenger, ferry and cruise sectors were the biggest coronavirus victims in global shipping, but downsized lines are now reactivating unused ships as they prepare for the “new normal” in tourism.
Last month, some of the world’s most expensive passenger ships were sailing to reposition themselves in ports to prepare for the first crossings in Europe, a year after operations were suspended. Cruise lines that generate some 53 million euros for the European economy and 10 billion pounds for the UK are now overcoming significant technical, health, safety, regulatory, operational and regulatory challenges. design arising from the new post-COVID-19 landscape.
From ventilation and vaccination protocols to contingency plans, renovations, revised food handling and crew training, cruise lines must adhere to a series of new rules so that some of the 210 more passenger ships 5,000 dwt identified as idling in the past 12 months or more can get back to business.
“Cruise lines do a lot of work to identify all the risks of being non-operating for a year so that they can successfully come back with new protocols,” said Joep Bollerman, vice president of passenger ships at LR. “The industry needs to ensure that equipment that has not been used for a while is well maintained and functioning as intended. There are going to be a lot of eyes on these first cruises and they must be a success.
There has been a phased return to service of passenger ships, led by several services launched in Asia from December. MSC Lines is among the first to resume Mediterranean cruises, followed by some of the Carnival Corp brands in late March, and Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean in June. Coastal cruises to the UK for vaccinated passengers are scheduled on two Carnival passenger ships of their P&O brand between July and September, as the UK lifts lockdowns and restrictions on hospitality, retail and tourism.
Cruise lines around the world have already postponed departures on reactivated ships due to ever-changing government regulations, which vary by country. Canadian cruise bans until February 2022 have prolonged delays in restarting cruises to Alaska, for example. Initial trips to Asia and the Mediterranean are shorter and intra-country, with reduced passengers and strict control, quarantine and social distancing measures.
At the end of March, cruises to North America and the Caribbean had not yet resumed, although the European restart provided a model for US authorities and companies anticipating a return in the fall. There, passenger ships idle at sea off the Caribbean or in US ports, which in itself poses challenges for inspection and maintenance regimes.
“Because the United States has very strict regulations to prevent people from boarding ports, another ship often has to dock in open water to get the necessary engineers and professionals on board. The ships then force us to quarantine for 14 days – we had a surveyor who spent 14 days in his cabin before being allowed to leave, ”Bollerman said.
It takes around 10 to 12 weeks to reactivate a cruise ship, he said, which includes starting and testing all equipment, as well as boarding an additional 1,500 crew members and retraining them. . Very few cruise ships went into cold immobilization when cruises were halted in March 2020 because no one anticipated the duration of the pandemic. Most are anchored at sea or in safe places in sheltered harbors with a small crew of around 100. The new ships already had redesigned ventilation systems and cold air redistribution systems to allow for 100% fresh air, so the biggest challenges are with older ships, according to Bollerman.
“The systems in which we are most involved are water distribution, air conditioning and cold air distribution systems, so they have 100% fresh air capacities or improved filter or treatment of the air. ‘air,’ he said.
The lack of international guidelines or regulations to comply with discrete country protocols and response plans adds to the complexity of any return to service. “We have to comply with a set of regulations from 50 different countries and it’s these different little details that make it a real challenge for a cruise line that calls at different ports in different countries to comply,” he said. he declares.
LR helps operators review the risks of returning to service, which includes a descriptive note known as SHIELD, as well as workshops that examine all the possible implications of an idling vessel. The process includes the assessment and then verification of six areas covered by World Health Organization protocols, including food handling, drinking water, ventilation, medical procedures, hotel services and cleaning.
“These are not specific prescriptive requirements, but they are goal-based. We don’t say how you should do it, but we have a lot of subject matter experts at LR who can assess the client’s proposal and say ‘enough is enough’ or ‘you miss that’ or ‘can you fine tune that a bit. Bollerman said.
There are also general engineering checks such as testing that the fuel remains stable even when not in use, or that the four or six diesel engines on a ship that are used to generate electricity are all running efficiently. . General maintenance and surveys which may have been initially deferred should also be carried out and in order.
The last major disruption of cruises to North America came after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This drop in trips left about half of the ships temporarily at anchor, but for periods of less than six months. Despite the longer disruptions and complex COVID-19 protocols, Bollerman is confident a return to cruise.
“I think the industry will come back – and it will be stronger than ever.”