Sat | Jul 24, 2021

Crew well-being a critical challenge to supply chains – CSA president

Published:Tuesday | June 23, 2020 | 12:09 AM

The psychological well-being of crew members on board vessels awaiting transfer is the most pressing challenge facing the maritime industry currently. This is the view expressed by Juan Carlos Croston, president of the Caribbean Shipping Association (CSA), during his welcome at the association’s webinar, ‘New Era of Cruise Industry after COVID-19’, which was held on June 17.

Croston argued that since the Caribbean region is dependent on tourism, the cruise industry must adjust to the new normal with proper safety measures. He noted the technical and coordination challenges being faced by the industry due to the pandemic, and called for action to secure the psychological well-being of crew members who are aboard vessels awaiting repatriation. This concern was reiterated by Brian Salerno, senior vice-president for maritime policy at Cruise Lines International Association, who mentioned that there are records of suicides resulting from the psychological stress of some members on board vessels.

Salerno also stated that voluntary suspensions of cruising, which began on March 14 and was immediately followed by the Centers for Disease Control’s 100-day No Sail Order, have led to economic damage across the industry. “Every day that the industry remains closed equates to the loss of over 2,500 jobs,” he added.

He said there was encouragement in the industry from a positive survey highlighting results that existing customers declared strong desires to resume cruising, while others indicated interest in becoming first-time cruisers following a reopening. It was also declared that the Caribbean remains the number one destination for cruising.

While there is anticipation for the resumption of cruises, Salerno mentioned that it cannot be reopened on a big scale, but instead, it will have to be resumed in phases. He said that the process will be gradual in areas where there are low reports of cases and may take longer for higher-risk areas, adding that itineraries may be limited during the first few stages.

A few quick polls requiring the participation of attendees were asked during the webinar. The first poll asked, ‘Do you think your destination will be ready by November?” The response from the participants were: yes – 72 per cent; no – 28 per cent. A second poll asked, ‘Do you believe we should wait until we have a vaccine for COVID-19 before restarting services’ . The responses: yes – 19 per cent; no – 81 per cent.

Cruise line planning

Salerno said that planned procedures are being made across the board to preserve a sanitised environment and for implementations necessary to maintain and strengthen the operations of the cruise industry. He added that while procedures cannot be announced yet due to the constant changes of the virus, they will continue to identify strategies based on the knowledge provided. There were, however, possible expectations to anticipate, such as: checks to be completed as at the stage of booking, screening during embarkations, changes in onboard procedures such as food service and excursions, and procedures to follow during disembarkations. He also mentioned the importance of being able to detect symptoms, medical staff to be capable of handling intensive care and proper evacuations should conditions exceed onboard capabilities.

Salerno said that the cruise industry will adhere to the requirements and protocols set by local officials, stating that the collaboration is very important. He cited the concern that isolated illnesses should not result in automatic denial to port entry.

New cruise normal

Nathan Dundas, president of Antigua and Barbuda’s Cruise Tourism Association, in a presentation focused on a theme of ‘Adaptability’, said that since the inception of the pandemic, individuals across the world have had to adapt to the new changes. He cited examples of the creativity and innovation seen generally, and specifically in the creation of stronger anti-bacterial products. He said, so too will the cruise industry have to adapt to what he called the “NCN”, or “new cruise normal”.

Dundas said the way forward must have a collaborative, standardised and common approach across the various destinations. He recalled incidents where captains were not happy about the way they were treated in some destinations, while the quarantining of crews in some Caribbean states was seamless and “described like a movie production”. Dundas recommended that officials implement strategic vulnerability plans and to collaborate with organisations within the private sector, declaring that “the biggest ship is partnership”, and that “commonality will help in moving forward”. He said procedures must be uniform and “filtered down to ground zero”, after citing examples of unpleasantries experienced at some ports due to misinformation and varying protocols required by one officer to the next.

Puerto Rico, which is open for domestic travel, was represented by Alejandro Caicedo Benet, chief development officer – tourism, who shared its five-phased –“gradual business resumption stages and milestones”. The phases, which included “containment, preparation for reopening, today’s reopening, ramping up, and recovering” are elements of Puerto Rico’s strategy in ensuring a safer and healthier environment for visitors.

The webinar, moderated by Hernan Ayala, past president of the Puerto Rico Shipping Association, was the second in a series being presented by the CSA, with the first, ‘The Power of Maritime Technology in the Era of Social Distancing’, held in May.

At the end of the webinar, Michele M. Paige, president of Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), invited participants to block their calendars for the FCCA’s conference slated for October 19-22, 2020, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.