By Captain George H Livingstone –
Any mariner who has been to sea for any length of time would tell you there are two topics that aren’t usually discussed at sea; politics and religion. The professional seagoing community is as diverse as the United Nations. We live in a world of small spaces and tight places, ships, it’s wise to avoid touchy subjects.
Sometimes the story is too compelling to avoid. On April 7, gCaptain’s John Konrad published a video by Wendover Productions, the insane logistics of shutting down the entire cruise industry. For anyone who didn’t see it, it is well worth the watch. In a nutshell? Last year, simultaneously with the pandemic, the entire cruise industry worldwide was forced to shut down. We’re not talking about a partial shutdown, or half the fleet, or any other fraction. All passenger ships on every ocean, sea, and waterway began the process of ending passenger operations, all at once.
It was a mammoth task, getting passengers off ships at the very beginning of the biggest pandemic in over a century was nearly a knockout first-round blow. Various countries, states, and ports initially refused entry of ships with passengers needing to debark due to the outbreak. It was a Catch-22 and a nightmare, passengers had to come off but there was serious resistance to allowing it by authorities and port state control. Somehow that immensely complicated logistical endeavor was completed. Following which, more very difficult work would begin. The work of repatriating crews home with hundreds of ships crewed by a mini united nations. Crews were actually transferred from one ship to another based on their home country and from there the ships would take them home. Safe harbors then had to be found for entire fleets, another breathtakingly difficult task. The industry also needed to get a grip on extreme financial bleeding that occurs when ships made to be moving stop. You can’t just park a ship and walk away, they must stay manned and be kept operational.
Billion Dollar Question
There is no argument that few nations, industries, and businesses were spared from the crisis the world faced as March 2020 ended. Immediate help, however, was on the way as individual governments worldwide recognized the magnitude of the crisis. For a variety of reasons, the cruise industry would not be a recipient of governmental financial support. The industry was left entirely to their own devices in working out any salvation and to their considerable credit, they did. The Billion-dollar question now? Has the cruise industry properly prepared for safe cruising operations moving forward? Are there factors involved outside of the cruise industry’s control? Even before the pandemic, the cruise industry was hyper-focused on health and safety issues. Anyone recall a little something called ‘norovirus?’ Sustainability of the entire cruise industry rested on their ability to come to grips with health issues like norovirus years before Covid struck. The spotlight on health and safety has been focused on this travel sector business for an exceptionally long time. The industry deserves high marks for its collective response to Covid-19. Outside of health care, I can think of a few sectors/industries more affected and better prepared to move forward. So when does the cruise industry get a green light for operations in the United States? Not yet is somewhat perplexing. Why?
Abundance of Caution
CNN’s Fareed Zacharia gave some thoughts about the response to the Covid-19 crisis. On his Global GPS show (not a conservative firebrand) Sunday, April 25, in part, he stated ‘Covid-19 is thousands of times more dangerous than the risk of a rare blood clotting that prompted the J&J pause. The pandemic seems to have exposed a tendency toward over-caution, which also reared in official’s reluctance to reopen schools despite indications of low viral risk.’ “The truth is that we live with risks all the time”. “We need to think more closely, carefully, and rationally about risk and remember to balance it with that other half of the equation: reward.” This logic has been echoed by various health officials that the wearing of masks outdoors was overly cautious and in hindsight, perhaps not necessary. Jim Cramer, American television personality and CNBC commentator/host, commented directly on the need to release the cruise industry ban in the United States. The state of Florida is taking the issue to the courts. There is a growing chorus of support behind lifting the cruise ship ban, not the least from millions of passengers that want to return.
If I have any concerns as a mariner, they lie with the two countries that make up a significant percentage of personnel manning cruise ships, India and the Philippines. Both countries are struggling with significant upticks in covid cases. In the case of India, it is nearly spiraling out of control. That must be addressed one way or another. Any skeptics out there still questioning the validity and effectiveness of the vaccines need only look to India. The fact is, spiraling Covid cases lead nations into boxed canyons, the more it goes, the less chance of escaping catastrophe. If Indian and Filipino mariners coming back to ships have been exposed to Covid in their home countries, then the merry-go-round continues. A collaborative effort by world governments to get the vaccine to hot spots around the world seems a logical solution and likely to be needed moving forward. The Covid virus and any of its mutations are not going away, there will be hot spots and fires that need addressing for years to come.
Backwards, Forwards & Sideways
This is no doubt now, however, that the problem facing the cruise industry has been studied backwards, forwards, and sideways. To the credit of all involved, there seems a clear horizon ahead. As of this writing, countries are beginning to or planning the imminent lifting of travel bans. How is that being done? It appears visitors will be required to provide vaccine cards and there may be an intermediate requirement for Covid testing before and/or after any visit. There is redundancy there and science tells us testing and redundancy is the way to validate processes and come up with solutions. At this point, the cruise industry has embraced all of that and more along with very stringent protocols when folks begin cruising again.
To Everything there is a Time
As Fareed Zacharia said, we live with risk every day. In the maritime industry, it is inherent, absolute. The way forward? Embrace risk and mitigate it through experience, training, and the technicals (science and/or physics) behind profoundly serious issues. At some point, however, reason and common sense must prevail. To everything, there is a season and a time for every purpose. The time and season has arrived for the United States to lift the ban on the cruise industry.
To more arrivals than departures-
Captain George Livingstone is a *former* San Francisco Bar Pilot, co-author of ‘Tug Use Offshore’, contributing author of ‘IMPA On Pilotage’ and a regular contributor to gCaptain.
Sign up for our newsletter