Cruising prepares a steady comeback from Covid-19

More cruise ships are getting ready to resume operations. How and when should they prepare, what are the new regulations to take into consideration, and how can the quality of operations be enhanced in a new normal? Our expert interview provides answers.

Featuring in this interview

Captain Jan Solum, Area Manager East – North America, DNV

Jan Solum brings deep and wide management experience from more than 30 years in the maritime industries in Europe and the Americas to his current roles as Area Manager for DNV and Director of DNV’s Cruise Ship Center in Miami. His insight comes from a varied background of working on board many different types of vessels in global trade, through running the shore-based operations of ships from both small vessel operators and up to the world’s largest cruise line, and by supporting customers for over 12 years working for the largest classification society in the world.

Jan Solum brings deep and wide management experience from more than 30 years in the maritime industries in Europe and the Americas to his current roles as Area Manager for DNV and Director of DNV’s Cruise Ship Center in Miami. His insight comes from a varied background of working on board many different types of vessels in global trade, through running the shore-based operations of ships from both small vessel operators and up to the world’s largest cruise line, and by supporting customers for over 12 years working for the largest classification society in the world.

When is cruise expected to expand operations again?

Cruising is coming back all over the world, but at different speeds and extents in the different locations. We see that operations out of Asian ports have commenced earlier, and the same for a number of countries in Europe. Cruising out of Caribbean ports is scheduled to begin in June, but the start-up of US operations is the main unknown at this time. The conditional sail order issued by CDC, which halted all cruising out of US ports, remains in force and has developed somewhat over time. But we now have clear indications that cruising will resume this summer from traditional US destinations like Alaska, Texas and Florida. Starting point will depend on the cruise lines and when their plans to resume are being approved by CDC. We can expect as early as late June and beginning of July for test cruises. Revenue cruises will then follow. As of now approximately 85% of the global cruise industry is waiting or in the process of starting up. In April this year there were around 25 cruise ships that had started, while in July we estimate we will exceed 100 cruise ships in operation again. The booking rates for cruise companies are at the best level since the beginning of the pandemic. We expect the cruise industry will come back and rebound.

Are there any new requirements/regulations to fulfil due to Covid-19?

Yes, each port (and country) has requirements and guidelines that need to be followed. Some ports have more extensive and prescriptive requirements, while others follow more general guidelines. Some flag administrations have also issued guidelines and expectations that need to be considered. In addition, there are industry guidelines, like the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations and the EMSA Guidelines. From DNV’s side we have taken our extensive medical expertise from certifying 650 hospitals in the USA and conducting more than 4,000 audits to ensure requirements for the prevention of infection risks and healthcare-associated infections are met. We adjusted these requirements to meet the needs of the cruise industry, to ensure that vessels that are certified by CIP-M (Certification in Infection Prevention and Control for Maritime) meet all the necessary regulations and requirements in the area of operations for each vessel. We use our internal healthcare department experts, together with experienced cruise vessel maritime auditors, to ensure the ships are ready for operations from an infection, prevention and control perspective.

When should preparations be started?

Now, or as early as possible. Within two months prior to start-up, outstanding issues should be resolved. The ships have been idle for a year, with reduced crew on board, and many maintenance jobs may not have been done in accordance with the planned maintenance system. In addition, many crews have gone to other shore-side jobs, so finding the regular cruise staff and resources with knowledge, competence and cruise experience may be a challenge. Cruise ships classed with DNV are mostly up to date on all statutory and classification certifications, since we decided together with our customers to keep the majority of the fleet ready to resume service at short notice, benefiting from approved remote surveys. Some may have elected to lay up their vessels, and if so, they need to reactivate them in a timely and planned manner. Formally laid-up vessels must complete all overdue surveys and rectify overdue deficiencies prior to returning into service (including dry dock in some cases).

What needs to be considered to stay compliant?

We see that time pressure is back, with necessary repairs and flag administration authorizations to be satisfied. Where authorities were lenient during the “out of service” period, we see they are tightening the approach as vessels are going back into operation. Port State Control (PSC) will commence and focus on statutory items, and some new infection control items. For a while PSC had limited inspections in order to safeguard the crew and the PSC officers, however as vaccination is more readily available also for the PSC officers and the crew on board, we see increased PSC activity around the world. Some cruise vessels may need to start service with reduced passenger capacity due to local requirements, or due to the maintenance and servicing of critical life-saving equipment, which may not be possible for so many ships at the same time. Some servicing companies have backlogs due to postponements. At DNV we have planned for the restart, so we have cruise surveyors available to support the fleet. Early communications of possible challenges should be brought forward and discussed with your DNV technical service manager or key account manager, so we can help with handling the challenges in the most appropriate way, with the support of the relevant flag administration.

What are the most important steps to take?

Besides crew familiarization, a lot of technical equipment may not have been periodically maintained over the last few months, and should be given high priority and focus, such as life-saving equipment, firefighting equipment, environment-related equipment (like scrubber installations, sensor calibrations or the ballast water management system) and important technical machinery. The breakdown of improper planning can be very costly, and lead to significant downtime or delays in starting up, far exceeding maintenance or preparation costs. A number of ships may decide to start with reduced manning, and then all emergency-related systems must be adjusted accordingly, like muster lists, emergency plans, response teams etc. Reduced manning may also affect planning in how to handle the various types of emergencies on board, so related plans may need a full review.

How can the crew be best prepared?

Ensure the internal training programme and protocols are suitably adjusted to reflect the different operations a start-up of a cruise ship comes with, versus normal cruise ship operations. Even experienced operators will need to consider the start-up as being like a new company and should plan accordingly. This includes making and implementing procedures and standards related to the new area of infection prevention and control. The safety management system needs to be adjusted accordingly. The use of a computer-based training system may enhance the speed it takes to get the new crew familiar with the new operations, and some of the training can also be done before embarking. Keep in mind that renewals of seafarers’ documentation (MLC 2006, STCW and Medical Certification) may be a challenge, as some countries may have reduced manning or availability of authorities due to local Covid-19 challenges.

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