Some 339 French passengers were on board. A similar test will take place June 27 ahead of the country’s official ports reopening on June 30.
Validating health and safety measures
‘We had to validate our sanitary protocol in France, this is why we set the test call,’ explained Patrick Pourbaix, general manager, France, Belgium and Luxembourg, MSC Cruises. ‘We worked with a team from Intercruises Shoreside and Port Services which is familiar with passenger embarkation. This firm was already our partner in Le Havre and is now also ours in Marseille. Their organisation is really top notch.'
He continued, ‘The police were there, the firemen were there. The B Terminal is very large, on one level, so it is easy to create the various zones, as set up in the protocol.
'The one [sanitary procedure] developed and set up in Marseille is just as perfect as the one used at the cruise terminal in Genoa… Everything went perfectly.’
‘Evolution’ in testing and use of sniffer dogs
All passengers were required to submit to an antigen test before boarding, ‘There is a slight evolution regarding this test in Marseille,’ offered Pourbaix. ‘We get the results in 15 minutes. If negative, people may board. If positive, we don’t do a second PCR test as we now know the antigen tests are reliable enough.’
A sniffer dog, proven capable of detecting people infected with COVID-19 with 97% accuracy even in those who are asymptomatic or at the early stages of the virus, was also employed. Trained according to a process launched in 2020 by Alfort National Veterinary School near Paris and handled by Marseille Marine Fire Battalion, further sniffer dogs are set to be stationed at Marseille’s cruise terminal this summer. They have been trialled for some time in Marseille at the ferry disembarkation terminal.
Nobody tested positive for Sunday’s sailing.
A unique platform
So said Jean-françois Suhas, president, Marseille Provence Cruise Club, ‘Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have worked hard on our healthy return to service and have built an exceptional and unique technical platform involving the Grand Port Maritime, Préfecture, Marseille Naval Battalion and Regional Health Agency Provence, Alpes Côte d’Azur. We are quite proud of it.’
He added, ‘This call has been a real success ashore and on board [and] the ship left in time. Everything is in working order to welcome the first calls from July 4.’
The June 27 test cruise will follow the same structure.
Costa Smeralda and MSC Seaside sailing from Marseille
MSC Seaside resumed operations in early May, with weekly Western Mediterranean itineraries from Genoa.