The return of the domestic cruise ship industry this month is being heralded as a triumph of flexibility, pragmatism and, above all, hard work in the face of the global challenge of COVID-19.
Ships are now being permitted to take on their first short voyages for a year, marking what’s seen as a real positive step forward after a challenging period in the industry.It has taken a dedicated team effort from across the Department of Transport, the UK Maritime Services team from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), working alongside cruise companies, to get to the point of being able to restart an industry that carried 2.2 million passengers through UK ports in 2019, with leisure voyages offering UK-only staycations from this week.
Domestic cruises are now permitted under Step 3 of the roadmap out of lockdown and will be able to operate with up to 1,000 passengers or 50 percent capacity, whichever is lower. Those onboard will still be subject to COVID-secure guidance, including social distancing and the rule of six, as well as a maximum of two households per group.
Work behind the scenes to get cruises back up and running safely has been carrying on at increasing pace by the UK Maritime Services team, as they worked to make sure the ships were ready to go from the physical assessment of the ships – potentially static for more than a year – to the training requirements of re-crewing those vessels.
The MCA restarted inspecting vessels on 5 May with expanded inspections of cruise vessels set to operate out of UK ports this year – whether they are flagged to the UK or not, to check they remain seaworthy and fit for purpose after more than a year out of service. The surveyors test all the systems onboard to the standard of the Paris MoU and no cruise ship will be allowed to operate until it has passed.
The cruise ship industry itself has also drawn up a COVID-19 framework , to mitigate the effects of the virus onboard and ensure they are safe – each framework must have been verified by a competent, independent third party. The MCA will verify, during an inspection, that a vessel holds a COVID-19 Management Plan.
Robert Courts, Maritime Minister said: “The cruise industry has worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to develop and implement Covid-19 protocols to protect the safety of passengers and crews, enabling a safe restart of operations.
“I am delighted to see the restart of cruises in England and want to thank the cruise sector for their hard work, patience and resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges.”
Katy Ware, Director of UK Maritime Services, said: “No one underestimates what the maritime industry, as a whole, has been through over these past few months. As an Agency, we’ve supported seafarers, worked with owners and operators and done all we can to keep the lifeblood of maritime flowing during this pandemic.
“It has been one of the most challenging periods in the history of the cruise industry and we have been there every step of the way to provide advice, expertise and, most importantly, ensure the welfare and safety of both passengers and crew.
“We are proud of how we have dealt with the challenges of COVID-19 so far and the return of the cruise industry around the UK shores this summer is a perfect example of how we have used hard work, flexibility and pragmatism to overcome those challenges.”