Z.Two weeks after the cancellation of all cruises, some scattered ships are still looking for open ports to disembark their passengers and fly home. Meanwhile, anchorages and berths for decommissioned cruise ships are becoming scarce. And the crew is mostly stuck on the ships.
There has never been a comparable situation before the corona virus crisis: the cruise almost came to a standstill within a few days. An industry that typically plans months to years in advance is faced with conditions that change arbitrarily and repeatedly within a few hours. Tens of thousands of passengers had to be flown home as soon as reports of further closings, flight cancellations and rigid travel restrictions arrived every hour.
At least 15 ships are still traveling with passengers. For example, the Albatros from Singapore goes straight to Bremerhaven for weeks. The Queen Mary 2 also has passengers on board and is on its way from Australia to Southampton. The situation on Artania, which is anchored with 831 Germans on board off Fremantle in Australia, has become dramatic. Some passengers previously infected with Covid-19 in Sydney, so that the actually planned 28-day sea trip to Hamburg has become impossible. Despite the warlike rhetoric of the governor of Western Australia that no one should be put ashore, the passengers should be allowed to fly home this weekend.
Cycle around cheap berths
Bringing vacationers home safely is a priority for shipping companies. But the tasks that arise afterwards are hardly less complex: where to put the ships temporarily out of service? And how is the crew coping with the new situation?
Even large cruise ports such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Dubai, Barcelona or Civitavecchia do not have enough berths to accommodate all ships – or do not want to. It is like a game of chess: Every shipping company tries to anticipate when the ships could go back into service and where exactly they will be needed. At the same time, they run around safe and inexpensive berths.
Cruise ship density is particularly high in Florida and the Bahamas. Because most ships were in the Caribbean for the winter season and have now first looked for a place nearby. Especially at Freeport in the Bahamas there are several anchorages, each with ten to twelve ships within sight of each other. The nine berths in the Port of Miami are fully occupied. They are also in demand because the port initially suspended the rather steep mooring fees for 30 days.
Again and again another ship is allowed to the pier, for example to load provisions. Something is always moving at the anchorages in the Bahamas. Many shipping companies call their private islands there once a week so that the crew can stretch their legs a little on land. Because on board, apart from calling home, she is currently isolated from the outside world.
Where to go with the crew?
The ships of the major German shipping companies are spread over half the world: TUI Cruises has ships in the Canaries, the Caribbean and on the way home to Europe. Aida has anchorages or berths in Dubai and Cape Town, the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Hamburg and Bremerhaven as well as some ships on the way to Europe. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises keeps Europa 2 in Marseille. Europa is on the way to Barbados and gets company there through the Hanseatic Inspiration. Bremen lies in Auckland, New Zealand, and Hanseatic Nature comes to Hamburg. In addition to Artania, the ships from Phoenix Reisen are still on the long way back to Germany with their passengers.
The shipping company has to solve the trickiest task for the ship crew. Most ships are free of Covid 19 infections and therefore a very safe place. At the same time, the crew cares for their families, some of whom live in countries with high infection rates. In any case, a flight home is only conceivable after 14 days of foreclosure – if home flights are possible at all. In the Caribbean, there is hope in Cuba of all places, where the authorities are cooperative. Even Covid-19-infected passengers on the British cruise ship Braemar let them disembark and fly home.
On the other hand, it does not necessarily make sense for the shipping companies to fly the crew home, for example to the Philippines or Indonesia. On the one hand, a minimum number of crews is required for safe ship operation during the cruise break even without passengers. On the other hand, the crew would be needed if the cruise operation started again in a few weeks. Exactly when that will be “in the stars”, as an industry insider put it. But would global travel restrictions allow hundreds of thousands of crew members to fly back to the cruise ships?
Meanwhile, shipping companies and crew are happy with optimistic campaigns. The ten to twelve ships at an anchorage near Freeport, for example, blow the ship’s horn at the same time every evening, across shipping lines. In the evening, Carnival ships light up the cabin lighting of the ships in the port of Miami with the words “We will be back”.