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cruise ship.

Health standards: How do we manage risks in the new normal?

We take a closer look at existing health management standards onboard passenger ships and what LR is doing to help operators strengthen their approach against the spread of illness when operations resume.

Ships are a confined space where crew live and work closely together for extended periods of time with occasional visitors and crew changes. Passenger ships can be particularly prone to outbreaks of infectious diseases because cruise ships and ferries often include a large number of crew and passengers from different places, sharing accommodations such as public spaces, recreational facilities and common food outlets/buffets. These factors increase the risk of viral/bacterial transmission.

The introduction of an infectious disease can have a detrimental effect on the vessel’s operational status. When the industry experienced outbreaks of COVID-19 onboard cruise ships from February 2020 onwards, with 13 reported by March (Ship Technology), this has halted cruise line operations for the time-being, in line with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) no-sail order. This has caused up to 95% of global cruise fleet to be in lay-up, with ferry operators also seeing a slowdown in demand with most operating a reduced service.

The passenger ship sector remains one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, but when local lockdowns ease and travel restrictions are lifted, we anticipate the return of cruise and ferry travel but not as we previously knew them. A serious outbreak of COVID-19 or any other infectious diseases onboard will likely damage passenger, crew and stakeholder confidence regarding health safety standards on passenger ships. This means risk mitigation around health management is central to the reintroduction of cruise ship travel and ferry services when the time comes.

Yet what does this mean specifically for passenger ship operators? We take a closer look at existing standards onboard passenger ships and what LR is doing to strengthen our approach against the spread of infectious disease when operations resume.

Health management

Protecting the safety, health and wellness of passengers and crew is at the core of each cruise line and ferry operator. Measures are aligning with guidance from medical agencies such as the CDC and American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), and trade-specific organisations – including the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) – regarding medical facilities and infectious disease management to help mitigate against and manage any potential outbreak onboard, focusing on early detection, prevention and control.

To prevent further spread of COVID-19, CLIA members agreed a voluntary suspension of all US cruise operations until 31 October 2020 for some ports and cruise lines and even further for most ports in the US. This proactive suspension beyond the CDC’s no-sail order is a positive sign for the industry, although CDC has now extended its no-sail order until 31 October (announced 1 October).

Moving towards establishing a “new normal”, CLIA continues to work closely with its members to draw up a set of guidelines for future embarkations, which may see changes to vessel operation. For example, operators may introduce different luggage handling systems and crowd management and boarding procedures. There could also be a temperature scanner in every cruise terminal and 100% COVID-19 testing requirements prior to boarding.

“More is needed to restore confidence of passengers and crew alike, going above and beyond existing standards and guidance,” states Joep Bollerman, LR’s Global Manager at Passenger Ship Support Centre in Miami.

LR’s approach

To support clients with this journey, focusing on crew and passenger safety, LR has developed a tailored and flexible framework of solutions with the introduction of its new products – Marine Stay Safe and SHIELD. These provide increased levels of verification and assurance to help maintain the highest health standards at sea.

SHIELD and SHIELD+ are voluntary ShipRight descriptive notations that provide a detailed survey and inspection of the key areas where health risks are elevated, as well as against the six categories (highlighted in the graphic above). SHIELD offers additional standards for health assurance onboard a ship, while SHIELD+ offers the highest standards for extensive levels of health assurance.

LR’s SHIELD aligns with existing ship management measures and exceeds the requirements set by regulatory compliance bodies, helping operators demonstrate heightened safety policies to crew and passengers through additional certification.

LR’s Marine Stay Safe is a tailored health verification programme that can help determine if vessels and marine-based structures are maintaining high levels of safety, cleanliness, quality and good hygiene. Stay Safe also provides a consistent review of policies against any of the six categories to highlight enhanced risk areas so that operators can make the necessary improvements related to operational efficiency and processes, especially for passenger and crew safety.

Depending on the preferred client requirements, Marine Stay Safe, SHIELD and SHIELD+ can be either delivered onboard or remotely by LR specialists. “Our new health safety solutions provide an independent route for the assessment, prevention, control and reduction of risk against the introduction and spread of infectious diseases onboard cruise ships, ferries and other ships and assets,” says Bollerman.

“This voluntary measure will help our customers go beyond core compliance, to establish even greater confidence in the health safety of their marine vessels and structures.”

Above and beyond existing standards

LR’s new standards are based on medical science from the global health industry, including guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO), CDC and other relevant national and local medical experts. We are also working towards partnerships with leading health organisations, including the Institute of Cruise Ship Medicine (ICSM), which provides practical training for medical personnel working on cruise ships, to ensure continued alignment and that our standards comply to its stringent guidelines.

LR has offered health risk mitigation services within the land-based hospitality industry for many years. By extending what we do into the maritime world, LR can provide operators with trusted knowledge, expertise and support around health management to tackle health risks associated with COVID-19 and other illnesses.

“Looking long-term, LR Stay Safe and SHIELD standards will help ensure that best practices continue to be implemented and integrated into ongoing health and safety measures,” says Bollerman. “It’s not just a one-off certification – we work with our clients to put in place the right immediate and long-term medical health solutions to improve health safety policies. This provides further assurance against the potential spread of health risks, demonstrating to passengers, crew and other stakeholders how our clients are ‘going above and beyond’.”

How is SHIELD being applied?

“Saga voluntarily paused cruising operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our vessels are currently in lay-up whilst we prepare for our return to service. When operations resume – there will be a new way of operating, with vessel modifications, revised and enhanced procedures and strict protocols, and we need to be ready to welcome our passengers back onboard safely. We’ve been working with Lloyd’s Register’s to act as our third party verification experts through their new SHIELD product, they’ve listened and helped create the right solution for us. We want to ensure we have covered all bases, can demonstrate and verify our additional voluntary measures as well as statutory compliance, and importantly are continuously audited on SHIELD. Ultimately LR’s continued assurance enables us to demonstrate an enhanced level of health safety to our passengers, crew and other stakeholders.”

James Langley, Director of Marine and Technical Operations at Saga Cruises

Horizons April 2021

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