04 September 2020

All around the world the COVID-19 global pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to business operations and to everyday life. The cruise industry has been one of the most severely affected business sectors, with vessels around the world suspending operations as the situation worsened.

The MS Artania is a 1,200-passenger cruise ship managed by BSM Cruise Services, which was in Sydney, Australia when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global pandemic on 12 March of this year.

Every vessel managed by BSM has an outbreak prevention response plan, but faced with rapidly changing circumstances, the BSM Cruise Services team has had to adapt, react and manage an extreme situation that no one anywhere in the world had prepared for.

As soon as the pandemic was declared, ports around the world started to close and MS Artania’s cruise was cancelled. The operator immediately offered the passengers on board the ship – most of whom were German – the option to fly home or to sail back to Germany with the ship.

For those remaining on the ship, the BSM Cruise Services team implemented rigorous screening protocols for any crew member or passenger joining the vessel, enhanced the sanitation measures and introduced daily checking of passengers’ and crew’s temperatures alongside monitoring for coronavirus symptoms.

“This has been an extraordinary and ever-changing situation”, says Martin Springer, Managing Director BSM Cruise Services, “involving the most outstanding teamwork between our onshore support staff and the crew on board the vessel. Our Designated Person Ashore (DPA), Sinah Lucius, was basically speaking to the ship 24/7. We have been in constant communication with the owner, our P&I club, the regional authorities and all those affected. This has required exceptional coordination and all of our staff have gone above and beyond, working to manage the situation safely.”

The ship had just left Sydney on 18 March when the operator received a call from a passenger who had flown home, advising that he had tested positive for COVID-19. BSM immediately appointed a specialist medical services provider, but given the infectious nature of the disease, it was not long before other passengers and crew were also showing symptoms.

The next port call was Freemantle. Initially the ship was scheduled to visit more Australian ports, such as Melbourne and Adelaide, but these ports closed whilst MS Artania was enroute. The Government authorities were initially reluctant to let the vessel stay, but BSM’s team on board and all other business partners involved had already taken significant steps to implement a rigorous cleaning regime, including increased cleaning frequencies, an increased mixing ratio of the cleaning agents, increased hand sanitation for passengers and crew in various outlets, all in accordance with BSM’s Outbreak Prevention and Response plan.

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The Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) and the Western Australian Health Authorities supported BSM regarding the situation as a crisis and agreeing with BSM that the health and safety of passengers and crew must come first.

Working in 24/7 communication with AUSMAT, everyone showing symptoms was tested, anyone testing positive was taken straight to hospital and anyone with symptoms, but testing negative was placed in a hotel for a quarantine period. Planes were then chartered by the operator, and as many passengers and European crew as possible without symptoms flew home.

On board the ship, the BSM team and the rest of the staff from other service providers instigated a full 14-day quarantine, led by Captain Morten Hansen. They separated the ship into a red zone for the crew members still performing essential deck and engine tasks, and a green zone for the remaining crew who would be in quarantine, complete with one-way system of walkways through the separate areas to minimise contamination.

In just 24 hours – working with AUSMAT – a professional cleaning company had been hired and external catering companies were engaged, one to cook food for those in quarantine and another to deliver it to those on board. One cleaning company was hired to do night cleaning and another to handle any medical waste.

Frank Oertel, Director Operations at BSM Cruise Services, adds: “The cooperation between our onshore team, the onboard crew and the authorities was excellent. The authorities had an experienced emergency team, who, to be fair, thought of absolutely everything. Added to which, the Captain was instrumental in maintaining the crew’s morale, managing the implementation of the quarantine, liaising with the authorities and updating those on board on the latest news every day over the public address system.”

“It was vital to support those on board, so they didn’t feel alone, so we set up a communication channel, the AUSMAT team contacted regularly and everyone had to report daily on their health. Any crew member who showed symptoms during the quarantine period was taken off the ship. At the end of the quarantine the crew, which was assigned to maintain the ship’s operation during the quarantine period had to leave the ship and was placed in the quarantine hotel in Freemantle before we were able to send them back home. Some of the crew remained on board and even some passengers returned to the ship, while some others were repatriated by plane. Thereafter, the ship set sails to Indonesia and the Philippines to disembark the remaining crew and sail further with the skeleton crew and the few remaining passengers to Europe.”

Sadly, during the outbreak two passengers with underlying health problems died of COVID-19 and a third died from causes unrelated to COVID-19.

Tragically, a BSM Cruise Services motorman also fell ill and passed away due to COVID-19. “A rating in the engineering department, he is remembered by all his colleagues as a cheerful, smiling companion. His death came as a huge shock and he will be sadly missed by all those on board and on shore,” Martin says. BSM’s Crew Service Centre (CSC) supported his wife in the Philippines as his health worsened, and a caring Filipino nurse in the hospital assisted with communications between the couple.

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Martin adds: “The COVID-19 pandemic has been an exceptional event for the whole industry. Looking back, I genuinely don’t think we could have done much differently, all of our team have done their absolute best given the circumstances and information available, BSM is a family company and we’ve all really come together like a real family to support each other as we find our way through this. I am very proud to be a member of this team – and with team I mean the crew, the customer, the other service providers on board and, of course BSM Cruise Services.”

“Crew changes are currently a massive issue and challenge for the whole industry and the MS Artania has been no exception. Thanks to our constant liaison with local agents, the work of our port agency Waypoint and our exceptional Crew Service Centre network, the ship was able to berth in Indonesia and the Philippines allowing several crew members to return to their homes. For others it has been a longer process, the last of the passengers flew home on June 13 and the last two remaining crew flew home to India soon after. The ship returned home and is now in Bremerhaven with a reduced crew waiting for a restart in the hopefully not too far future.”

He adds: “Looking ahead, river cruising and ocean cruise is beginning to resume, ocean cruises will watch and learn from their experience and take the measures necessary to comply with local government and regional regulations. Working with the owner and hotel provider, we are now in the process of drafting new procedures and evaluating technical upgrades to comply with the latest requirements and to allow a safe restart of operations to cover everyone – the passengers, BSM crew, concession and hotel staff. All of our crew can rest assured – their health and safety and that of our passengers will always be uppermost in our minds and considerations.”

“We would dearly really like to thank all our seafarers. This crisis has really demonstrated that we are all part of the same team, on shore or on board. I am very proud of all our staff, I have been struck by their professionalism, their commitment to their jobs and to the safety of all those around them, sincerely I thank you for everything you do every day. It is more than overdue that the international bodies finally recognize them as what they are – key workers!”

For further details, please contact Martin Springer (Managing Director, BSM Cruise Services) at: martin.springer@schultecruise.com

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