Adapting cruising for the Covid-19 pandemic

The virus may be around for the foreseeable future, so cruise operators and designers must find new ways to facilitate preventative protocols to keep passengers and crew safe

Adapting cruising for the Covid-19 pandemic
New seating arrangements in public spaces will help to keep passengers and crew members safe onboard

Designing and maintaining Covid-19-free cruise ships is an ambitious goal and one of the biggest challenges facing designers and ship operators today. The latest studies and recent events have shown that coexistence between healthy people and those carrying the virus is possible and often unavoidable, despite having testing procedures in place.

It is likely that the virus will still be around when cruise ships begin to sail again, so it is necessary that we have the protocols in place to ensure that individual cases can be dealt with appropriately. For cruising to resume, ships must be places where discipline, distance and isolation is guaranteed so that every infected person can be effectively isolated and treated. Protocols and internal design systems need to be carefully defined to limit the risk of spreading the virus, so that guests can feel safe in their choice to go on a cruise.

To do this, ship designers and operators need to solve challenges relating to interior design, and to maintaining the health and safety of passengers through social distancing and separation. There are currently no protocols or tests in place to ensure that a space is completely free of the virus. The European Union has developed its Healthy Gateways Covid-19 Guidance which aims to offer advice on preventing the spread of Covid-19, but this mainly focuses on hand-washing, sanitising surfaces and acting on those cases which have been detected early. Respecting these protocols and social distancing would solve just a small part of the greater task to keep crew and passengers healthy.

Air conditioning, water, food and waste can be made safe with investments, but this is much more difficult when it comes to the furniture and decorations typically found on a cruise ship. The most recent tests in the micro-bacterial and viral fields show that it is impossible to completely eliminate the virus, unless you replace carpets, textiles and other surfaces with materials that are easier to clean. In other words, the most effective way to ensure that all onboard spaces are free from Covid-19 is by completely redesigning and refitting existing ships.

Disinfection methods such as ultraviolet germicidal irradiation can be used for air conditioning units and spaces that consist of wipeable surfaces – such as kitchens and medical facilities – but they cannot be used to properly sanitise public spaces and cabins. Instead, these areas will need to use a combination of sanitising technologies and feature specific furniture pieces that can be easily cleaned or are self-sanitising.

In order to operate alongside Covid-19, cruising will demand a change in habits and lifestyle onboard ships. For example, interactive touch totems and touch screens, such as those that might provide guests with deck plans and other information, will need to be rethought or switched off since, as public touchpoints, they are among the main sources of infectious transmission between passengers. To reduce the risk associated with these features, cruise lines could encourage the use of individual devices, such as mobiles, to find this information when passengers arrive onboard.

Lifts also present issues as the call panels are another type of public touchpoint and the available space inside may not facilitate social distancing. Cruise operators can therefore discourage the use of lifts where possible and recommend using the stairs instead, making exceptions only for those with mobility issues.

Needless to say, most shipowners and shipyards hesitate to undertake these investments and changes in culture, as they wait to see a possible reduction in global cases or distribution of an effective vaccine. But if the pandemic continues, the alternative and risk to not tackling these problems in a radical and timely manner could see the cruise market – and its immense commercial and industrial activity – impacted for a long time. Industry members must now decide how they will approach the situation.

While physical precautions will be a necessary part of life onboard a cruise ship in the near future, we have to be aware that the human factor will also be a fragile element in the safety of the ship. For example, infections may become apparent that were not detectable during embarkation safety procedures and passengers may forget to act in line with preventative measures during excursions, which may result in cases occurring onboard before they would be detected or isolated. The physical traces of the virus left on surfaces and objects, the dynamics of air and breath, and of the fluids contained in the air, mean that guidelines that ensure separation are essential to keeping other passengers safe and healthy, even if someone onboard has become infected. Passenger corridors and lifts, buffet lines and sun decks are all possible sources of infection if proper physical separation protocols are not adhered to.

Critical services such as restaurants and dining areas must consist of specific design elements such as partitions and easy-to-clean or self-sanitising furniture, in order to minimise the interaction between the staff and guests.

Aware of this challenging goal and of the need for new spacing and separation regulations between staff and guests, we have been exploring how to adapt cruising to Covid-19 in every variable of managing passenger flows, gathering and access control, social distancing, dynamic fluid analysis and air conditioning tuning, and furniture design, with very encouraging results.

At the core of this service concept are our unique Covid-19-free and self-sanitising installations, in both sitting and standing versions. A typical buffet equipped with our different types of installations for individuals, couples, families and group settings can become a safe and efficient restaurant, with only 20 per cent less seating and full separation between guests and staff.

Our study and new offerings are supported by partnerships with organisations such as Micamo, a biotechnology company backed by the University of Genoa; the University of Genoa’s Department of Computational Fluid Dynamics; Atisa, which designs and installs heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems; and engineering consultancy firm ECD Group of Genoa.

These partnerships represent some of the powerful planning support that is currently available to the cruise industry to help manage Covid-19. In the absence of universal indications and protocols from international authorities, our Covid-19-free system is the only available project that can advise and support operators, and help design cruise ship spaces in a multidisciplinary and scientific way.

Only the creativity of designers applied to science can make such a system pleasant and attractive – something that is inherent to cruise ships. The task of architects and designers is to build memorable experiences, despite the technicalities and physical limitations. People go on cruises to enjoy themselves, and we are working to ensure that continues.

Marco De Jorio is president and CEO of De Jorio Design International

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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By Marco De Jorio
30 October 2020

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