Why the ferry's industry's pandemic response fuels hopes for future

Interferry's members can draw comfort from the evolving reactions to unprecedented challenges

Why the ferry's industry's pandemic response fuels hopes for future

Archipelago Philippines Ferries/FastCat

Like all of Interferry’s member lines, Philippines-based operator FastCat has implemented new procedures to keep passengers safe and healthy onboard its ferries

By Mike Corrigan |

As the battle against Covid-19 continues, a wise old proverb comes to mind: hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Understandably, the world was caught off guard in 2020 by a pandemic of such unpredictable proportions, but the subsequent fightback makes it feasible to hope – albeit cautiously – that the worst will be over as 2021 unfolds.

I say this even though the devastating and ongoing impact of the virus on lives and livelihoods cannot be overstated. The ferry industry has shared the economic pain felt in every sector of society. Revenues have plummeted by billions due to swingeing travel restrictions that have reduced passenger traffic by up to 90 per cent – a situation aggravated by the need to maintain lifeline deliveries of essential goods despite unsustainable losses.

So why do I suggest that hope is on the horizon? A major factor is the record speed at which various Covid-19 vaccines have been developed and licensed as safe and effective. Following a process that typically takes 10 years, inoculations are being rolled out across the globe, which could encourage a return to some sort of normality in the summer holiday months. The peak tourist period is crucial to the profitability of ferry companies, particularly those that rely on this income to compensate for lower passenger numbers on their freight-biased sailings over the rest of the year.

Ironically, another reason for hope stems from last summer’s travel lockdown. This largely narrowed holiday options to “staycations” rather than international bookings, which in turn attracted newcomers to the ferry mode of transport. It’s now apparent that both domestic and international services can eventually build on this wider customer base by promoting the more relaxed nature of short-haul ferry travel compared with long-haul tourism – and the greater protection from viral infection that the space onboard ships affords.

Furthermore, in 2020, Interferry took a leadership position on the safe resumption of passenger services by issuing a best practice guide. The guide strengthens our hopes for better things to come in the foreseeable future, especially as governments around the world have embraced it as a blueprint for Covid-safe travel.

This prime example of being prepared for worst-case scenarios typifies our determination to stay focused on the issues that are critical to the industry’s well-being. In good years or bad, regulatory representation is a constant in the association’s workload, not least through our consultative status at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), where continuity during the pandemic has been ensured by replacing in-person sessions with virtual meetings.

Our most urgent priority right now concerns proposals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions under the IMO’s Energy Efficiency Existing Ships Index (EEXI). Ahead of the 2030 target – a 40 per cent reduction on 2008 values – short-term measures were agreed in principle last November, scheduled for final approval in June this year and are due in force by 2023. Non-compliant ships will lose their licence to operate, while recertified vessels must thereafter conform to a continuous improvement plan for operational efficiency, the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII).

The main compliance option under the short-term proposals is power limitation to reduce speed and thus achieve the average performance required of each shipping sector. While this is workable on deep-sea operations, Interferry has argued for sector-specific solutions to meet the diverse design and service requirements of ferries. We launched a survey asking members for fleet-wide energy-related data and received an excellent response that will help as many existing ships as possible to navigate both the EEXI and CII. I think it’s fair to say that this initiative alone speaks for the benefits of joining Interferry’s membership roll call of 260 operators and suppliers in 40 countries.

And this leads me to one final hope for 2021 – that Interferry’s annual conference will go ahead as planned in Santander, Spain in October. In 2020, the event scheduled for Hobart, Australia, had to be cancelled for the first time in our 45-year history after falling victim to the pandemic. There has surely never been more a more important time to demonstrate the “Stronger Together” motivation of our networking and knowledge-sharing mission.

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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