IMO Circulates EU Guidance for Safe Cruise Ship Operations

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As efforts increase across Europe to resume cruises, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) joined in the discussion circulating guidance to address the protocols for the safe operation of cruise ships. The IMO invites member states and international organizations to utilize the guidance and circulate it to all interested parties to ensure safe operations.

Despite the recent setback in Norway, cruising has resumed in Germany both with large ocean-going ships as well as river cruising. Greece also announced that it had reopened six cruise ports and several other countries including Malta are following suit. Several of the cruise lines are also working with the Italian authorities anticipating that approvals will be forthcoming shortly for the first cruises sailing from Italy into the Mediterranean ports.

To facilitate the gradual and safe restart of cruise ship operations, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) jointly developed a comprehensive report for the protocols and best practices for cruises in the European Union.

The IMO told member states that the guidance aims to facilitate a safe re-start by recommending minimum measures expected to be implemented while also maintaining general safety and security standards. The guidance is meant for EU/EEA flagged ships engaged in international voyages and for ships calling at an EU/EEA port, irrespective of flag. The guidance is divided into three parts and follows a goal-based approach suggesting topics to be addressed. According to the two organizations that prepared the report, it is not intended to provide prescriptive solutions, but rather to assist in addressing the risks identified related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The 34-page report addressed a broad range of topics including risk assessment and responsibilities related to COVID-19. It recommends conducting a review of the risks to ships, passengers and crew, and other parties and preparing company and ship management plans. Staffing is a key part of the preparation making sure that appropriate levels are maintained and available in key areas such as the medical department. In addition, there is an emphasis on training for all personnel.

For shipboard operations, they address issues that are now considered basic such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, health screening, and the use of protective equipment. A review of spaces is also recommended as well as developing strategies for people going ashore and returning to ship. 

The guidance also addresses the protocols to respond to a COVID-19 outbreak. They recommend reviewing itineraries and doing planning with the ports regarding the possibility of needing medical attention for passengers or crew and its availability. If a suspected case of the virus is discovered during the cruise they recommend the ship should divert to the nearest port where testing can be done. Sections of the report address developing a port management plan and coordination between the ship and port in relation to COVID-19.

Annexed to the report is additional scientific evidence related to the virus. It also addresses elements such as contract tracing efforts and even provides a sample health questionnaire.

Executives from the cruise industry have recognized these efforts by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) as providing a clear roadmap as they develop their plans to resuming cruises. At the same time, the cruise industry continues to await similar guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings president and chief executive officer Frank Del Rio spoke about the status of the CDC’s efforts during his call with investors and analysts on August 6. “I think the next 60 to 90 days are going to be very, very key. As you know, the CDC requested an RFI, request for information, that’s due September 21. I’m told that there are thousands of comments that have already been received by the CDC.” Also citing the industry current efforts with health panels and drafting plans, Del Rio said, “The CDC will have a lot of information to comb through and digest, and opine on beginning in Q4.”


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