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Tideworks, Brenock team on cruise industry tech solutions

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Seattle's Smith Cove Cruise Terminal, Pier 91

The two companies will leverage their complementary strengths to deliver enhanced management tools and solutions to their customers.

Optimize and automate

Cruise lines and marine terminals are facing unprecedented disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the joint venture, Brenock and Tideworks, with the support of Tideworks’ parent company, Carrix, and sister company, SSA Marine, will deliver solutions to help cruise lines optimize and automate processes as they rebuild from economic setbacks and adjust to new health and safety standards on board.

Carrix has expanded and developed its business to support the industry’s changing needs; this joint venture is a continuation of these investments to deliver exceptional service to customers and partners around the world.

Efficiency and cost savings

'We are eager to partner with Brenock to provide technology solutions to cruise lines and terminal operators to help them increase efficiency and save costs,' Tideworks President Thomas Rucker said. 'With Brenock as an ally, our collective technology and expertise can help improve operations, solve mission-critical problems for our customers and partners and make a positive impact on their business.

Tideworks’ scalable terminal operating systems solutions, combined with Brenock’s mobile-ready management tools will optimize operational efficiency, reduce costs and boost performance for key stakeholders across the supply chain.

'The disruption to the cruise industry has been unprecedented,' said Jason Grant, VP fleet technology with Holland America Group. 'We are excited about Tideworks’ and Brenock’s joint venture as we evaluate solutions tailored to our industry and the opportunity to increase collaboration across the maritime sector.'

Accelerating innovation

'We are dedicated to helping cruise lines innovate and will be there to help them rebuild against serious market challenges,' Brenock President Manus Walsh said. 'Working collaboratively with Tideworks and its partners will enable us to accelerate this innovation and deliver added value to our customers.'

RCL closes $2.15bn senior/convertible notes offerings

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The convertible notes include $150m resulting from an option to buy additional notes that was fully exercised by the initial purchasers.

$2.08bn net proceeds

Net proceeds of the concurrent offerings were $2.08bn after fees, commissions and expenses, which the company intends to use for general corporate purposes. This may include the repayment of debt.

Adds seven months to liquidity window

As earlier reported, this additional capital raise adds approximately seven months to the RCL's liquidity runway in a zero-revenue environment, according to William Blair analyst Sharon Zackfia. She said this effectively funds the company for at least another 12 months.

'I'm optimistic': AQSC's Waggoner on US cruises starting in weeks

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John Waggoner's biggest disappointment was having to cancel American Countess inaugural festivities, but a virtual christening is now planned. He's pictured here at the shipyard, where the vessel was completed ahead of schedule

'Right now I'm optimistic,' the AQSC founder and CEO told Seatrade Cruise News.

His company is focused on two boats: a July 6 start for American Empress, which plies the Columbia and Snake rivers, and a July 20 start for American Duchess, which sails on the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers.

Coast Guard approvals, FDA reviews

AQSC has US Coast Guard approvals for these vessels and operating plans are being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees US-flag operators — not the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

'Now it comes down to the ports,' Waggoner explained. And it's complicated.

The US has non-binding guidelines for phased reopening, and states determine the phases, which often vary by county. In Washington state, all the ports American Empress visits (Vancouver, Stevenson, Richland, Clarkston/Spokane) are currently in Phase 2, which allows in-store retail, restaurants at half capacity and gatherings up to five people. Phase 3 will allow non-essential travel, restaurants at 75% capacity and gatherings up to 50 people. Phase 4 will condone gatherings of more than 50 people.

In Oregon, Portland is a travel hub for American Empress passengers and the vessel visits Astoria and The Dalles. Portland is not yet in Phase 1, which in Oregon would allow limited restaurant openings and gatherings up to 25 people but no travel, while Astoria and The Dalles are currently in Phase 2, with gatherings of up to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors OK.

For American Duchess on the Mississippi, cruises touch a wider range of states. The July 20 sailing begins with a hotel stay in St. Louis, Missouri, which is in Phase 1, with in-restaurant dining and retail stores open, and touches ports in four other states, including Illinois, where American Duchess turns around in Alton. There, the county bucked the state's system and is in Phase 2, allowing gatherings of up to 50 people. In days it is expected to move into Phase 3, allowing gatherings of up to 150.

Bottom line

Bottom line: While the Pacific Northwest destinations are working through their four-stage openings, along the Mississippi AQSC visits 'mostly small towns that count on us for economic development. There is no resistance,' Waggoner said. The company is writing to state governors to share its plans and protocols. 

As for customers, 'There is a lot of interest. We're seeing a lot of people now who aren't ready to travel internationally but want to travel domestically.'

Before coronavirus, AQSC was touting the fact that Americans don't even have to get on a domestic flight since vessels are within driving distance of major population bases.

And, going forward, road trips are becoming the thing, Waggoner said. AQSC homeport Memphis is a day's drive from Atlanta, St. Louis and Oklahoma City, while New Orleans is well-served by Amtrak. Portland is within driving distance of Seattle, Boise and Northern California.

Refunds versus credits

Initially, 70% of customers whose sailings were canceled rebooked using AQSC's 125% future cruise credit. Over time, as uncertainty increased, that's reduced to 60-40 or 50-50. Customer sentiment is running 'the whole spectrum,' as Waggoner put it, with some staying home, others ready to roll on the rivers and some willing to go if they can avoid planes.

'Still a lot of folks are rebooking,' Waggoner said, mostly for 2021. And next year there is strong interest when AQSC's Victory Cruise Lines introduces newbuild Ocean Victory for the company's inaugural Alaska season.

Yet AQSC is also taking new (cash, not FCC) bookings for 2020, in September and October. Same-boat sales are up 33% year over year.

Reduced occupancies/health protocols

American Empress carries 212 passengers and 70 crew, so it was over the 249-person cap in the US no-sail order. AQSC got Coast Guard approval to amend the certificate of operations to 170 passengers so, together with 70 crew, it qualifies.

American Duchess is fine. It carries 156 passengers. And with two restaurant seatings and alternative dining venue River Grill, it can limit restaurants to 50 people. Instead of one nightly show, there will be two.

Plus, 'We'll keep occupancy fairly low on the first cruises so people feel comfortable,' Waggoner said.

The partnership with Ochsner Health adds protocols including pre-screening and virtual access to infectious disease specialists. The boats stop every day, so anyone needing medical care can easily get to a facility. On board, MXP Protect will incorporate the use of thermal imaging at the gangway, so every time someone gets on or off, their temperature is checked. One hundred percent of the crew will be tested for COVID-19 before embarking.

AQSC is working with its tour provider, Shore Excursions of America, to reduce motor coach capacity from 49 to 24 and will adhere to limits at attractions visited.

American Countess and American Queen

Waggoner's focus is getting American Empress and American Duchess running, then the company will turn to Mississippi boats American Countess and American Queen. The largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built, American Queen carries 420 passengers and 180 crew. The plan is to reduce capacity 25%, to 300 passengers and 180 crew. Still, that's over the current US no-sail order.

Capacity will likely have to be adjusted for the 245-passenger American Countess, new this year. It was to have been named in late March in New Orleans. Canceling the festivities was Waggoner's biggest disappointment. After everything AQSC had learned from the challenging conversions/start-ups for its other vessels, American Countess was completed early and in New Orleans two months ahead of schedule.

There it sits.

AQSC is now planning a bourbon-laced virtual naming with Waggoner's daughter, Angie Hack, as the godmother.

Great Lakes

Another disappointment was having to cancel Victory Cruise Lines' 2020 Great Lakes season.

That turned out to be prudent, given Canada's ban of cruise ships through October. There had been talk of Canada possibly allowing technical stops to satisfy cabotage restrictions, but even if that had happened, Waggoner said there was too much uncertainty.

Still, the season cancellation was 'a tragedy for us because the Great Lakes were so well-received with such positive reviews.'

He's hopeful for 2021, when the season is due to start in April.

Victory in Alaska 2021

And what really gets Waggoner excited is Alaska. Expedition voyages will operate on Ocean Victory, with its Ulstein X-BOW design, zero-speed stabilizers, big lecture hall, two restaurants, outside suites and dipping pool. Alaska expedition cruise pioneer David Giersdorf crafted 'unbelievable itineraries between Vancouver, BC, and Sitka to places the big companies don't go,' Waggoner said.

The ship will carry an ample expedition team of marine biologists, scientists and naturalists from Waggoner's alma mater, California Polytechnic State University. Besides guiding and lecturing, they'll be conducting scientific research on board. Programs with the Alaska Whale Foundation and Sitka Sound Science Center will add further depth.

And AQSC will be creating a scholarship fund so passengers can 'adopt a marine biologist.'

June 9 updates: Cunard halts into November, Disney drops Alaska, Europe

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Queen Elizabeth departures up to and including Nov. 23 were canceled

Keep checking back. This is being continuously updated.

Cunard's Palethorpe: Ability to travel freely remains 'some way in the distance'

Cunard extended its pause in operations into November. For Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, cancellations include sailings that were to depart up to and including Nov. 1 and for Queen Elizabeth, departures up to and including Nov. 23.

'With many differing restrictions across countries, people’s ability to move freely and safely across borders remains seemingly some way in the distance,' Cunard President Simon Palethorpe said. Cunard is particularly impacted given its international mix of passengers and sailings all over the world.

Passengers on canceled sailings will automatically receive a 125% future cruise credit that may be applied to any new booking made by the end of 2021 for any voyage that's on sale at the time of booking. Alternatively, a refund request form is available on www.cunard.com.

Disney's Europe and Alaska cruises, and more

Disney Cruise Line canceled Europe voyages on Disney Magic through Oct. 2, Disney Wonder departures from Canada through Sept. 14 and Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy sailings through July 27.

Passengers on affected sailings are offered a future cruise credit or a full refund.

YSA Design and ALMACO agree ship restaurants need radical concept overhaul

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Future cruise ship restaurants may include open kitchens or cooking shows

‘À la carte may completely replace self-service, with buffet counters removed to leave extra room for socially distanced dining’, says Chief Executive, YSA Design, Anne Mari Gullikstad.

Senior Architect at YSA, Georg Piantino, echoes the view, adding, ‘Shipowners will want the ability to increase or decrease the capacity of interior spaces and implement or remove certain facilities’.

According to YSA, the choice of surface materials will require careful attention as exposure to antibacterial cleaning agents will become more frequent.

Cutting back on cost

Erik Schobesberger, vice president, sales modernisation at ALMACO, expresses the view that existing lack of clarity on future regulations means cruise lines will be apprehensive about making major step changes to F&B design this year, although easy and cost-effective temporary solutions may be put in place if cruising is to resume this August.

‘Cruise lines will…redesign their old buffet restaurants and catering areas to be able to serve many customers efficiently, while maintaining the highest possible standard, without making large investments’, says Schobesberger. ‘It will not just be about serving food in a safe way; it will also be about conveying a sensation of safety to the customers’.

He adds, ‘The new concept must be “wow”, while meeting the new standards and regulations’.

Open kitchens

On the subject of longer-term solutions, Schobesberger comments, ‘Once the cruise ships have been sailing for a while and revenue starts rolling in, it’s time…to start revitalizing and marketing the new restaurant concept to regain customer confidence and satisfaction.

‘Some will choose to keep the buffet concept but implement design improvements and equipment innovations that makes it safe. Others will transform their restaurants into an à la carte with open kitchens or cooking shows’.

Technology benchmarking needed before building new ships, says RINA

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The webinar focused on technologies that could be used on board ships, including AI and thermal screening

Plan before you build

Ro-Ro Passenger Ships Manager for RINA, Maria Garbarini, recommended following the BioSafe index before building cruise ships during the class society’s recent webinar.

Made up of points that need to be met to achieve Biosafety Trust Certification and Biosafe class, Garbarini discussed 24 risk factors that ship companies must address to comply with local, national and international requirements, most of which require the use of the latest technologies.

These include: boarding and debarking passengers and crew, infection spread management, recreational activity safety measures and keeping work spaces, food preparation and dining areas, toilets and medical facility centres.

‘“Normal” doesn’t exist anymore’, said Daniele Pozzo, RINA’s head of Industry Innovation & Strategy Business Development, ‘Now it’s about technology benchmarking – understanding the pros and cons of each option and which designs are not fit for the industry.

He reassured ship owners by saying, ‘It’s about developing a full system with the industry that works for the industry’.

Technology

‘AI technology can be applied easily and integrated with video systems already on board ships’, Pozzo went onto add as he spoke about the use of intelligent algorithms.

Customised gates integrating advanced thermo cameras for temperature monitoring was put forward as a boarding safety measure to enable safe sightseeing and shore excursions, as well as Bluetooth technology for tracking movements on board vessels, allowing alerts to be sent to passengers notifying them of free and maximum occupied areas.

Rethinking plant design to optimise distribution of air flows, drones using UV-C surface and air disinfection technology, sanification boxes for small objects, and PPE monitoring using algorithms to detect crew members without face masks were also amongst the number of potential measures.

Crew

Joost Van Ree, director, Partner Relations at CLIA claimed that 96 ships were repositioned in mid-May, with difficulties now getting crew back on ships for maintenance during hot-lay-up amid border closures.

In reference to food and beverage, Van Ree commented that there will need to be modification or elimination of on board buffets moving forward.

Andrea Cogliolo, senior director, Marine Business Development, RINA, Alessandro Marcello, group leader of molecular virology at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and Giorgio De Sciroa, director North America Passenger Excellence Center at RINA USA also took part in the webinar, which was closed by Paolo Moretti, ceo, RINA who reiterated the importance of measures being taken.

Engineering specialist urges riding squads to solve dry dock conundrum

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A riding squad was used on board Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 as it made a transatlantic round trip

‘Once restrictions have been eased, more and more shipyards are going to fill up, triggering a real impetus for owners and class societies to work together and consider common sense approaches to getting vessels surveyed’, says Nash.

‘The riding squads, such as those at SPS Technology, will carry out repairs whilst the ship is at sea.

‘By choosing this solution the class society can be satisfied that the repair is being carried out, while the owner/operator benefits from the cost savings of having the ship at sea and not in dry dock’.

SPS Technology

SPS Technology’s ‘no hot work’ solution for permanent class approved structural steel lasts the lifetime of a ship, according to Nash, and involves bonding new plates to existing steel. The technology was used for two decks totaling 130sq mtr on board Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 and fitted by a riding squad, as the ship made a transatlantic round trip.

Five-year surveys

Nash goes on to say that ‘class societies have largely been forced to postpone carrying out a survey on non-critical items for 90 days’, owing partly to the challenges of surveyors being able to access ships safely amid travel restrictions, and the need to protect staff and crew on board from COVID-19.

Of five-year surveys, Nash adds, ‘vessel owners must arrange extensions with their class societies to get ships in dry dock either when the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, or when shipyards are open again’.

Ethel Blum, writer who championed cruising, is mourned

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Ethel Blum's passion was travel, said her son Roger

'She was a great champion of cruising,' said Maurice Zarmati, former longtime senior executive with Carnival Cruise Line and Costa Cruises. 'She loved the destination and she loved reporting it.'

Blum wrote from 'a very down-to-earth standpoint,' he said. 'She had a great personality, a wonderful sense of humor. She was one of us.'

Played a part in cruising's development

As travel editor of the Miami Beach Sun, Blum was there when the first shovel went into the ground for the development of PortMiami. Since the start of modern-day cruising, she focused on the industry's development and played a part in it. 

Authored 'The Total Traveler'

Blum wrote for major magazines and newspapers and penned the first cruise guidebook in the 1970s. 'The Total Traveler by Cruise Ship,' which became 'The Total Traveler Guide to Worldwide Cruising,' stretched into 14 editions over 28 years and was called the 'encyclopedia of cruising.' It has been used as a textbook.

Blum was the cruise editor of Travel Trade, the founding editor of Cruise Trade and a proponent of Cruise-A-Thon, the important early travel agent conference. She hosted a nationally syndicated talk radio show on WKAT in Miami for 16 years and founded and ran a travel agency in Bay Harbor Islands. She served two terms as president of the Society of American Travel Writers.

More than 300 ships

Blum sailed on more than 300 ships and circled the globe half a dozen times, twice by sea on QE2. She didn't limit herself to ships, and covered destinations with equal candor.

'She could do a world cruise in the Queens Grill and then a week later, take a seven-day Carnival cruise. She understood the ships well enough to enjoy different experiences,' said her son Roger Blum, principal of Cruise & Port Advisors and former longtime Carnival Cruise Line executive.

Always a writer

Born in Cleveland, Blum published her first article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer when she was 10. She earned a journalism degree at Ohio State University. While on a family vacation in Miami Beach, she met her future husband Milton Blum, an Army colonel.

During postings that included Japan and Germany, they raised a family. Daughter Carol was born in Alabama, son Jeffrey in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Roger in Germany.

Blum integrated herself and her children into different cultures; for example, Carol and Jeffrey attended a Japanese school in Tokyo instead of an American one. In Europe, Blum was a regular contributor to Stars and Stripes, and her experiences abroad transformed her from an investigative journalist and columnist into a travel writer.

After Milton Blum retired from the Army, the family settled in Miami Beach, where Ethel's cruise writing flourished.

In 2001, she switched her focus to philanthropy, founding several organizations and serving on their boards. Her involvement encompassed the Mount Sinai Medical Center, the Miami Jewish Home and Hospital at Douglas Gardens, two Alzheimer organizations, Project Newborn and a dozen other charities. She attained Lion of Judah status with the Jewish Federation.

Blum was preceded in death by Milton and by her second husband Eddie Dublin. In addition to her three children, she is survived by five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

A private funeral will be held Tuesday, with a memorial service planned for later at Temple Emanuel in Miami Beach.

ILO decries plight of seafarers stuck on ships

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Governments called to act without delay

Tens of thousands of cruise ship crew are among the 150,000 to 200,000 seafarers trapped on board ships around the world because of measures to control the spread of COVID-19. The ILO has urged governments, immigration, health and maritime authorities to work together to recognize seafarers as ‘key workers’ during the pandemic.

Referring to the Maritime Labor Convention, 2006, the ILO called on governments to adopt without delay all possible measures to facilitate crew changes and the repatriation of seafarers, while taking steps to minimize the risk of contagion.

'Forcing exhausted seafarers to continue working more than four months beyond the end of their contract is unacceptable. This jeopardizes their health and endangers maritime safety. Action is needed now to ensure decent work for seafarers, avoid maritime accidents and environmental disasters, We call on governments to work together to make these crew changes happen in safety,' said Guy Ryder, ILO director-general.

Lost income

Meanwhile, the restrictions on crew changes, brought in by countries to reduce the spread of COVID-19, have meant that seafarers waiting to return to sea have lost their income.

The call for key worker status for seafarers was underlined in a joint statement issued on May 22 by the International Civil Aviation Organization, International Maritime Organization and the ILO. This would exempt crew from travel restrictions and facilitate their joining or leaving ships.

The International Chamber of Shipping, the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Transport Workers’ Federation called attention to the urgency of the situation in a letter to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres on May 21.

Just last week the European Community Shipowners' Association, European Transport Workers' Federation, Cruise Lines International Association and World Shipping Council implored European Union ministers of home affairs and transport to admit seafarers into the EU Schengen territory to join ships or be repatriated.

First shoreside workers back at Royal Caribbean, other companies hold off

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Only about 150 people are going back to the Royal Caribbean offices today

Only about 150 people are going to the PortMiami offices initially in this phased start-up, an RCL corporate spokesperson told Seatrade Cruise News.

Carnival Corp.

Carnival Corp. headquarters in Doral are remaining on minimal essential staffing for the time being, with most people continuing to work from home, a spokesperson said. Essential staff include those manning the Carnival Cruise Line Fleet Operations Center.

NCLH

At Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, employees are not returning to the Airport Corporate Center headquarters just yet but 'soon, we hope,' a spokesperson said.