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MSC Cruises engages expert external support to develop new health protocol, eyes Med to resume cruising

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MSC Cruises is developing a new health and safety operating protocol to support its return to service and is looking at the Mediterranean’s potential for a resumption of cruise operations.

Having set up a cross-functional task force comprised of in-house experts in the areas of medical services, public health and sanitation, hotel services, HVAC and other shipboard engineering systems, IT and logistics, MSC Cruises also engaged consultancy Aspen Medical to further assist with the development of the company’s own enhanced protocol and procedures.

Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises, commented, ‘the work of our task force is being further supported by the formation and engagement of a Blue Ribbon COVID Expert Group for consultation on protocols and planning, as well as bringing additional specialised advice to augment our own existing resources and knowledge.

Personally formed by Pierfrancesco Vago

Personally formed by Vago the Expert Group includes: Professor Christakis Hadjichristodoulou,  Professor of Hygiene and Epidemiology at the Faculty of Medicine as well as its Vice President, School of Health Sciences, University of Thessaly, Greece; Professor Stephan J. Harbarth, Head of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at the Faculty of Medicine, Geneva University Hospitals (HUG); and Doctor Ian Norton, a Specialist Emergency Physician with post graduate qualifications in Surgery, International Health and Tropical Medicine who was also formerly the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Medical Team Initiative program from 2014 until January 2020.

Vago said the group will remain in place ‘long beyond our return to operations to ensure we benefit from their know-how and input even as the situation continues to evolve and more data become available.’ 

Bud Darr, MSC Group’s EVP for Maritime Policy and Government Affairs, commented: ‘During the development of our new health and safety operating protocol, we have been in continuous consultation with regional, national and local public health authorities including, among others, those in Europe, US, Brazil and China - both directly and through CLIA.’

He added, some of the company’s most detailed engagement and contribution took place with EU-level authorities responsible for public health, as it relates to cruise ships. This has recently resulted in the issuance of the EU Healthy Gateways interim guidance, amongst others, and that national health authorities across the Continent are currently reviewing.

Working with authorities in Med countries

Darr shared, ‘our focus is on next-phase work with authorities – including those responsible for health, transport and the maritime sector – in countries overlooking the Mediterranean as they are examining the most recent EU-level and international guidelines and looking to incorporate them as appropriate in their own local requirements.’

He added, ‘this is in fact the region where, thanks to the improvement in the health situation ashore and return to travel by citizens, we currently expect a potential resumption of cruise operation following the now nearly completed and successful reopening of other travel and leisure activities across the region.’

Details on operating protocols coming soon

MSC Cruises’ new operating protocol – details of which will be announced soon - has been designed to meet and exceed guidelines provided by key international and regional regulatory and technical bodies including the World Health Organization, the EU Healthy Gateways Joint Action and European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), as well as regulations set forth by many of the governments in the countries in which MSC Cruises ships operate.

The cruise line is also looking to engage a classification society  to provide third-party verification that its protocols and procedures meet established EU-level guidance.