NEWS: MSC Cruises is the first international line that operates in Japan to receive a health and safety certification from the country’s official maritime classification society ClassNK, a major step toward the line’s operational restart in the country scheduled for April 2021.
The certification of MSC Cruises’ industry-leading health and safety protocol for Biosafety Management System (COVID-19) now paves the way for the line to open sales in December to local residents for cruises home-porting in Japan and start to work with ports in the country to prepare for the forthcoming season.
Gianni Onorato, MSC Cruises’ CEO, said, “We are extremely pleased to have received this certification and are now confident that we will be able to restart our Japan operation serving the local market by April 2021.”
Junichi Hirata, ClassNK’s General Manager of Innovation and Sustainability Department added, “This is the first important step of a longer-term plan for MSC Cruises to resume Japanese cruise operations in the first half of 2021, and we will now work closely with the line towards that goal.”
Health and safety operating protocols of port authorities in Japan and MSC Cruises will also follow guidelines established by the Japan Oceangoing Passenger Ship Association (JOPA).
Hiroya Nakano, Director-General of City of Yokohama’s Port and Harbor Bureau said, “It is great news that MSC Cruises has received this certificate of approval from ClassNK for its health and safety guidelines. The Port of Yokohama is committed to cooperate accordingly for the re-starting of international cruises in spring 2021.”
MSC Bellissima, which was launched in 2019, will be deployed to Japan, homeport in Yokohama to sail six- to nine-night cruises in April, May and June 2021. She is also scheduled to operate in the country during October and November 2021.
“To be the first international cruise line in Japan to be awarded this key certification of compliance is a further testament to our robust and rigorous health and safety protocol which led the way for the entire global industry when in August we became the first major line to resume cruise operation in the Mediterranean,” said Onorato. “We have now safely and responsibly carried more than 30,000 customers in the Mediterranean and can now look forward to offer the same for our guests who live in Japan.
MSC Cruises’ industry-leading protocol, as well as the data gathered through the operation of our two ships calling Italy, Greece and Malta during the past few months, is currently being reviewed by authorities in other regions where the company’ other ships are scheduled to restart.
“We believe, therefore, that this certification – in a country where the industry was at the centre of much attention very early in the pandemic – and the confirmation by authorities in Italy through their latest ministerial decree that cruising can continue, will go a long way to demonstrate the trust that we have been able to build with the protocol’s effective measures and their rigorous application for the benefit of guests, crew and the communities we serve.”
European classification society RINA last month awarded MSC Cruises with its biosafe ship additional class notation for the line’s flagship MSC Grandiosa which is currently operating in the Mediterranean Sea.
RINA had previously verified that the MSC Cruises health and safety protocol met and went beyond the high standards of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) Joint Guidance, which incorporates additional health standards including those from the EU Healthy Gateways Joint Action.
The verification that the protocol was aligned with the guidance of the two key European authorities was a crucial part of the process to enable the August restart of MSC Cruises’ operations in the Mediterranean.
MSC Cruises health and safety protocol
MSC Cruises in mid-August became the first major cruise line to resume sailing following the global shutdown of the industry in March caused by the pandemic ashore.
MSC Grandiosa, the company’s flagship, set sail on August 16 from Genoa in Italy with guests on board for the first of her seven-night voyages in the Western Mediterranean.
This was achieved following approvals from the relevant authorities in Italy, Malta and Greece of an industry-leading health and safety protocol designed to protect the wellbeing of all guests, crew and communities to be visited.
This protocol, which was designed at the outset to adapt to a fluctuating health situation ashore, was recently strengthened in line with the current evolution of the pandemic in mainland Europe, with a series of enhanced rigorous measures.
The additional measures include the following:
- Additional on-board antigen testing for COVID-19 of all guests mid-way through their cruise which are on top of the existing pre-boarding universal testing for all guests;
- Frequency of testing of all crew during their time on board increased from twice-a-month to weekly, which is in addition to pre-boarding testing for all crew and other ongoing health monitoring measures;
- Increased frequency of on-board sanitation, in particular of public areas and high touch points;
- Tightening of the definition of close contact for tracing purposes, reducing the time that individuals are in contact from 15 minutes to 10 minutes.
The MSC Cruises protocol is based on nine key elements, many of which have been adopted by other cruise companies, the Cruise Lines Industry Association (CLIA) and international airlines and airports.
- Testing of all guests at least twice per voyage
- Testing of all crew at least three times before embarkation and weekly on board
- Only protected shore excursions, as organised ‘social bubbles’
- Ventilation with HVAC fresh air
- Contingency response that does not burden local health infrastructures
- Isolation space on board and tracking and tracing including close contacts
- Physical distancing – aided by reduced capacity of the ship
- And COVID-19 prevalence monitoring
MSC Cruises’ protocol with its newly activated measures continues to be managed by a cross-functional task force comprised of in-house experts in the areas of medical services, public health and sanitation, hotel services, heating and ventilation, air conditioning, shipboard engineering systems, Information Technology and logistics.
The company originally also engaged world-renowned expert consultancy Aspen Medical to assist with the initial development of the Company’s protocol and procedures and the line continues to work closely with its Blue Ribbon COVID-19 Expert Group to support its work on an ongoing basis.
The MSC Cruises industry-leading comprehensive health and safety protocol offers:
- Universal health screening of guests prior to embarkation that comprises three comprehensive steps: a temperature check, a health questionnaire and up to two COVID-19 swab tests (antigen and RT- PCR if required). For crew members, this includes: an initial test in their country of origin; a second test upon arrival at the cruise terminal; and a third decisive test upon completion of a mandatory isolation period prior to starting their duties on board a ship.
- Elevated sanitation and cleaning measures supported by the introduction of new sanitation and cleaning methods, and the use of hospital-grade disinfectant products.
- Social distancing enabled through the reduction of the overall capacity of guests on board, allowing for more public space per guest while on board (approx. 10 m² per person based on 70 per cent maximum allowed overall capacity on MSC Grandiosa.)
- Enhanced medical facilities and services with highly qualified professionally trained staff, the necessary equipment to test, evaluate and treat suspected COVID-19 patients and the availability of free treatment at the onboard 24/7 Medical Centre for any guest with symptoms. Dedicated isolation cabins are also available to enable effective isolation of any suspected cases and close contacts.
- Ongoing health monitoring conducted throughout the cruise. Guests and crew have their temperature checked daily either when they return from ashore or at dedicated stations around the ship to monitor the health status of every guest and crew member. Additionally, measures now include mid-cruise testing for guests and weekly for crew for the duration of their stay on board.
- Protected shore excursions: Guests only go ashore as part of organised MSC Cruises excursions in a social bubble, which maintains the same high standards of health and safety measures as they experience on board. This ensures, for example, that transfers are properly sanitised and that there is adequate space. Tour guides and drivers also undergo health screening, including testing, and wear appropriate personal protective equipment.
- A contingency response plan that is activated if a suspected case is identified, in close cooperation with the relevant national health authorities. The suspected case and close contacts all follow isolation measures and are disembarked according to local and national regulations.
Source/photos: MSC Cruises