Cruise Ships and Coronavirus

 In Articles

Solis Marine’s cruise ship expertise across the fields of marine, engineering and hotel operations is available to support cruise operators to get their ships out of their warm lay-ups and get the show back on the road.

By Captain Richard Meikle

The best thing about being a cruise ship master is that, for most of the time, you take people on your well-equipped ship, with a great crew, to interesting places and they have a terrific holiday. The very worst scenario is when the ship you are in command of is placed at risk, or your passengers and crew are sick, have suffered an injury, or sadly died.

The current Coronavirus crisis is the first event to bring the industry, and its ever-increasing fleet size, to a full on “emergency stop” and the entire cruise industry, as it pushes to get back up and running, faces the latter situation right now.

The cruise industry has had its troubles in the past: 9/11 (when I lost my Captain’s job following the collapse of Renaissance Cruises); Norovirus; environmental compliance (the illegal discharge of bilge water via magic-pipes), Costa Concordia, piracy risks; low sulfur fuel regulation and ballast water regulations amongst them.

The industry has battled for years to keep the pernicious Norovirus at bay, in a battle that it has never really won. Cruise passengers remain faced with anxious waiters hovering with hand sanitizers and constant reminders over the ship’s PA to remind them to wash their hands.

A Norovirus outbreak can lead to the loss of cruising days, which as a former Cruise Fleet Director, used to give Chief Executives heart palpitations; goodness knows what they are thinking and considering right now.


Solis Marine Partner Captain Richard Meikle as a cruise ship Master in Tahiti

Sailing Into the Unknown?

First time around, the cruise industry was perhaps as much a victim of Coronavirus as the passengers and crew.  In the future when the cruise ships sail again, they will be fully aware of the risks of Covid-19 and will have an obligation to manage their environments, both on board and ashore, and be fully equipped to respond should an outbreak occur.

But, how will the new risk of coronavirus be managed as the ships return to service? What precautions have been taken, were they reasonable, how reliable is the pre-cruise health screening; how many ventilators should be supplied, what modifications to air handling units may be required, and how do you organise social distancing at the buffet line?

The ongoing industry battle with Norovirus serves as a reminder that the cruise ship environment is a difficult one to fully, and effectively, control.

I remember, some years ago now, being the master of a vessel with a suspected outbreak of Legionnaires Disease, where there was a risk that a small number of passengers had been infected by the ship’s water. What if they died? The thought that your ship’s systems had contributed to a potentially fatal situation was awful.

The warnings from cruise vessels stuck alongside in Japan with confirmed Covid-19 cases, as well as previously cancelled Norovirus cruises and ‘poop cruises’ caused by mechanical failures, will all be fresh in every cruise executive’s memories.

Getting Passengers Back on Board

Virtually all cruise ship operators have, optimistically some might say, set a date to enter back into service. Carnival Cruises has announced a gradual restarting of operations from August. Only time will tell whether this is realistic, but for sure the industry will eventually recover, if slightly bruised and on its guard for the foreseeable future.

Yes, to my opening point, people love cruising; “it’s like a family”, “they always remember me”, “the Cruise Director was so lovely”, and I know that many, many passengers will certainly be eager to get back on board.

The crew will go back; to their credit, and financial necessity, they always do.

Which countries will be the first to allow cruise ships back into their ports, and allow travelers to roam through their towns and cities though?

The balance between the risks versus cruise lines losing yet more operating days is a very fine balance indeed. But I am sure the cruise industry will, as it always has before, bounce back from this calamity.

Solis Marine’s cruise ship expertise across the fields of marine, engineering and hotel operations remains available to support cruise operators to get their ships out of their warm lay-ups and get the show back on the road.

Once this is over, I am sure we could all do with a cruise.

You can contact Captain Richard Meikle here

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