13 charter flights plus commercial flights
MD Roger Storey described a seven-week effort to repatriate the crew from Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, thanks to the provision of 13 full charter flights and two commercial flights.
Two further charter flights from the US have been approved but, as a result of this week’s closure of the main airport in Manila, these have now been put on hold. Storey expects to be able to bring in these flights around mid-month, raising the total of repatriated crew to around 9,000.
Crew from southern provinces stuck in Manila
Currently almost 2,000 crew from Visayas and Mindanao are stuck in Manila, unable to get to their provinces. The Philippines' Maritime Industry Authority and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration had organized ferries to take them to Cebu, IloIlo, Bacolod and other places in the south but that plan was suspended indefinitely.
Singapore- and Manila-based CF Sharp has been dealing with quarantines and fast-changing protocols, including finding hotel rooms in Manila for arriving crew at a time when most hotels were closed in Manila's lockdown. Of the 8,000 repatriated crew, almost 6,000 have now been able to proceed home after completing their 14-day quarantine. Some then needed to undertake another 14-day community quarantine, but most were able to carry out a 14-day self-quarantine at home.
Swab testing on arrival speeds efforts
The Philippines Department of Health and Bureau of Quarantine have helped the repatriation efforts. The procedure may now speed up as national guidelines have been amended to require all crew to undergo RT-PCR swab testing on arrival. Those who test negative will be able to forgo the 14-day quarantine in Manila and can proceed home for community or home quarantine.
Europe first to restart?
When cruising resumes, Storey predicts further challenges will need to be overcome. 'From what we know at this point, cruise vessels may start operating from European waters first. This means that a large number of crew will have to obtain Schengen visas. For now all embassies are also closed, so there isn’t much we can do to prepare,' he said.
For more on crew repatriation, see also Frank Del Rio's comments in 'NCLH can go 18 months-plus in no-revenue scenario'