Chris Allen, Royal Caribbean’s AVP of deployment and itinerary planning, and fleet captain Hernan Zini talk to Lynn Houghton about coping with unexpected itinerary changes
Senior personnel for cruise lines, particularly those in charge of managing itineraries, have their work cut out for them when an emergency suddenly and unexpectedly occurs. This can take the shape of unforeseen political unrest in the country where the cruise vessel is scheduled to call, a rise in the crime rate or a national strike – or, most frequently, extreme weather – that makes it dangerous or even impossible to dock safely. When an event or series of events is deemed to be life-threatening to crew and passengers, safety is the top priority. A quick change of itinerary might be the only viable course of action.
For example, in April 2014, the upheaval in the Ukraine spilled over into the Crimea. As Russian forces moved in, there were clashes between the Ukrainian and Russian armies as they vied for control of this strategic peninsula on the Black Sea. Sevastopol is a port used by cruise ships but is also a strategic military and commercial hub and base for the Russian Navy and a fleet of submarines. Yalta, an enormously popular tourist destination, has a large number of cruise calls during the summer months. It was vitally important that cruise lines make the right decision on whether to avoid these ports or continue as normal.
So what does a large operator such as Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. do to ensure its ships don’t sail into trouble when political upheaval or bad weather hits? Chris Allen says: “We closely monitor the situation – whether it be hurricanes, strikes, or increase in crime – for any potential impact on the guest experience or our guests’ safety. We try to avoid modifying itineraries whenever possible. However, sometimes it is necessary to change a port of call based on the current situation. The safety and security of our guests and crew members is always foremost in our minds.”
When it comes to sudden and extreme weather changes, it is often the captain of the cruise vessel who must make that critical decision on whether to avoid a port or take a change of course to avoid possible disaster.
“The captain must make the ultimate decision,” says Miami-based fleet captain Hernan Zini. “He or she is in constant contact with headquarters, which helps to provide advice and support on these decisions. Captains are constantly looking ahead for weather issues. This is so they can make safe and conservative decisions in terms of itineraries. In some cases, a port might decide to close due to severe weather conditions and, typically, this is because the weather is very extreme. Most of the time, we find ourselves in situations where the port is not closed for regular traffic, but due to the size of our vessels plus our own operational limitations and margins, we decide we have no choice but to cancel that call.”
Zini adds: “Captains have access to many resources that help with decisions, such as GMDSS weather alerts, reports from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, web-based radar mosaics and also weather pages from international meteorological services. Reports from around the world are now at our fingertips, including media and weather news organisations and, when available, subscription-based weather services. These can be used for prediction and tracking of hurricanes, typhoons and other severe weather conditions.”
With technology and constant monitoring, Royal Caribbean and other cruise operators take each situation as it comes to make the right economic and safety decision. It is a continual, delicate balancing act by all accounts.
This article appeared in the Itinerary Planning Special Report. To read more articles, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.