Health safety protocols have been in place for years to prevent viruses spreading onboard passenger ships. However, when the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in 2020, it quickly became clear that they needed to be strengthened and improved to help facilitate the safest possible return to normal operations when current travel restrictions are lifted.
“The health safety measures ship operators had in place to prevent viruses spreading provided a good starting point for tackling this new coronavirus,” says Joep Bollerman, global manager of Lloyd’s Register’s Passenger Ship Support Centre. “Now, they must find new ways to enhance these measures and make ships even safer for passengers and crew.”
Bollerman believes that, just as the 9/11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center in New York transformed the way the world approached security, the Covid-19 pandemic will have a lasting legacy on the way people view health safety procedures and result in a greater level of protection against any future viruses.
“After 9/11 everyone was much more conscious about potential security breaches and all passenger ship operators upgraded their protocols and these are still in place today,” he says. “After this pandemic, everyone will continue to expect higher health safety standards than ever before. There will be a lot more eyes watching what cruise lines, passenger vessels and other hospitality providers are doing, which will impact many operational procedures. For example, operators may have to reimagine their traditional process of calling 1,000 people into a theatre for a muster drill. Compliance with health safety requirements will be a minimum expectation, but the cruise industry has always gone beyond expectations.”
Bollerman adds: “Historically, whenever we’ve experienced a state of emergency (like Legionnaires’ disease or norovirus) we’ve thrown everything that we can at the problem until the immediate threat dissipates. Afterwards we reflect and our approach is continuously reviewed, but we always maintain the most effective protocols to prevent a recurrence of the problem. We obviously can’t just go back to what we did before because the impact of the pandemic has been so severe.”
This is where industry-wide regulations, such as the International Safety Management (ISM) Code, can help. When it was first introduced in 1998 the code was largely considered an unnecessary burden but nowadays shipowners and shipboard staff embrace it. “For many it’s all they’ve ever known,” says Bollerman. “Likewise, audits were traditionally perceived negatively, but this has changed a lot over the past 10 to 15 years. Today, an audit is seen as an opportunity to improve standards and recognise achievements.”
Just as the industry adapted to the ISM Code and audits, it will acclimatise to new regulations and protocols for mitigating the spread of Covid-19 and other viruses, taking a flexible approach to the way in which they are enforced.
“A ferry operating a schedule of three-hour crossings will have a different approach to a cruise line running a seven-day itinerary, for example,” notes Bollerman. “A variety of options will be available to meet the required criteria – some operators might opt to install an ultraviolet light system to kill airborne viruses, whereas others might use a fresh-air system. Regardless of which solution they choose, every operator must ensure it is well maintained and audited to verify it meets the requirements.”
Regularly training crew members and implementing good operational practices will also be paramount. “Incorrect familiarisation and implementation of protocols will lead to these measures being less reliable,” says Bollerman. “We need to make sure crew members are aware of actions to be taken if an abnormality is identified and that equipment that is operated, maintained and calibrated as needed.”
To help with this, Lloyd’s Register has designed the SHIELD descriptive notation, a voluntary set of new accreditations and certification that helps shipowners to assess their health safety policies against six categories: medical, policy, food, ventilation, accommodation and water. As part of the descriptive notation, Lloyd’s Register provides a detailed survey and inspection of the key areas where health risks are elevated. The process can be fully customised to suit all sizes and types of ship, different clients’ needs and it exceeds the requirements set by regulatory compliance bodies. Achieving certification allows cruise ships and other passenger vessels to demonstrate that they have heightened safety procedures to reduce the risk of the introduction and spread of infectious diseases onboard cruise ships, ferries and other ships and assets.
“When we designed our SHIELD solution, we focused on finding ways to reduce the risk of infectious diseases spreading on ships, not just for Covid-19 and subsequent strains of the virus, but also for future threats too,” says Bollerman. “We analysed the requirements for the biggest and most complicated ship, as well as the World Health Organization’s strategy to combat the virus, and used all this knowledge to build SHIELD.”
According to Bollerman, Lloyd’s Register hopes SHIELD will help to build an improvement culture across the passenger shipping industry. “If SHIELD flags a flaw, we don’t seek to attribute blame, we seek to train and resolve,” he explains. “Of course, no one will just be waiting for our annual visit – everyone will be working hard to exceed the standards expected of them every day.
“For example, if an onboard engineer opens a filter once a month and notices that it’s always blocked, they’ll realise that they need to clean it more often. Similarly, if we come onboard for an annual audit and notice some problems, we might come back in three months to prevent these issues from escalating. During this period of heightened awareness, we need to get to the point where all of the new health safety routines become second nature so that they are more easily maintained when the immediate threat has been resolved.”
SHIELD is not a mandatory certification; it’s simply intended to make sure that the protocols, people and equipment that a shipping company has in place are working efficiently and to a high standard. “Clients that sign up to SHIELD have the assurances they need that their protocols are being thoroughly implemented onboard and are effective,” says Bollerman. “SHIELD also provides peace of mind for the crew and passengers that the ship is a safe environment for everyone. We’ve also released SHIELD+ for clients who want a much deeper audit of their protocols and we’re delighted that Saga Cruises chose this option. Like many of the operators, the brand really wants to make sure it is doing everything it can to protect passengers and crew.”
There are multiple business benefits for vigilant operators. Just as passengers are starting to choose cruise brands based on their environmental performance, they will also tend towards a ship that has a notably high health safety rating. “We can’t take any shortcuts on getting the right equipment, materials and procedures in place and making sure crew are properly trained and sufficiently motivated,” says Bollerman.
At some point in the future, there will be time for considered reflection on the passenger shipping sector’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. “When that happens, hopefully the cruise industry will be applauded for its proactive and innovative response to the pandemic,” says Bollerman. “In hindsight, we should have responded much more aggressively 12 months ago, so the lesson for the wider world is that we must act quickly and collectively when crises arise in the future, while remaining vigilant in the present.”
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.
Share this story