Launching the 2021-2022 cruise season on November 14, 2021, will be the MS Island Sky, the first cruise vessel to sail to Seychelles since the closure of the destination to cruise ships in March 2020. As per the decision taken by the country's authorities in March 2021 relating to the size of the vessels and limiting their carrying passenger capacity, Seychelles will only be welcoming smaller vessels with a maximum of 300 passengers.
Island Sky, operated by London-based Noble Caledonia, is a relatively small cruise ship with a carrying capacity of 118 passengers; a regular sight in the Seychelles waters prior to the pandemic, she will be calling at four of the Seychelles outer islands, namely Aldabra, Assomption, Farquhar and Cosmoledo. MS Island Sky will be followed by other small cruise ships throughout the season.
The Principal Secretary for Civil Aviation, Ports & Marine, Mr Alan Renaud, has said that throughout 2020, working in collaboration with the health authorities, tourism department, the port authority, and the tourism industry, the department, have implemented new procedures to allow the safe resumption of cruise ship visits to Seychelles.
PS Renaud said that to facilitate the restart of cruise ship operations, the Department of Civil Aviation, Ports & Marine has developed a COVID-19 Company and Cruise Ship Checklist for cruise ship operators, and a parallel COVID-19 Port Management Plan for the authorities to be introduced next month. The complementary documents have been based on guidance published jointly by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention Control (ECDC) and endorsed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and adopt a goal-based approach, identifying measures to be taken on board ships and ashore to ensure safe operations.
"The documents outline the respective responsibilities of local agencies and the cruise ships in relation to COVID-19 matters, identification of critical resources and personnel, the passenger and terminal arrangements at all ports of call, the contingencies in case of a COVID-19 outbreak, the protection of communities visited by the ship, and, generally, the coordination between cruises and ports in relation to COVID-19," PS Renaud said.
The department will also be rolling out a maritime version of the present travel authorisation system, which will be adapted to the cruise ships and yachts, serving simultaneously as a health protection system as well as an enhanced border control system for incoming vessels. The maritime edition will be integrated with the ships' systems and make it a seamless, paperless, touchless process for both embarking and disembarking guests and the ships themselves.
PS Renaud said enormous care and rigour were taken with the measures as every cruise ship is a large and extended gathering, bearing the theoretical risk of starting a super-spreading event. He stated that, however, the risk of such an event is now greatly mitigated thanks to developments over the past year, such as the successful vaccination campaigns around the world and new measures implemented by industry, which have dramatically changed the risk calculation, making many countries feel ready to open up to the cruise industry again.
"First, the cruise ship operators must implement rigorous standards, developed in consultation with the ECDC, IMO, and other industry groups, and we require their procedures and evidence of having completed drills, to be externally verified by qualified organisations prior to arrival in Seychelles. Second, because the cruise ships are smaller and have additionally reduced the number of passengers on board, any event on board will be proportional in size to an international flight. Finally, and most importantly, vaccinations are now standard for cruise ship passengers and their operating crew, and the abundant accumulation of evidence of the impact of vaccinations has shown that where vaccinations are prevalent, breakouts are manageable, as relatively few people will require hospitalisation. Putting everything in balance, we feel the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but we must not let our guards down, and the protection of our communities is still paramount and this is addressed in the standards," PS Renaud said.
On her part, the Principal Secretary for Tourism, Mrs Sherin Francis stated, "The reopening of the cruise ship season is another milestone for our destination. I am happy that all relevant actors have ensured that due precautions have been taken to facilitate this exercise in a safe manner."
Port Victoria recorded 39 cruise ship calls during the 2019/2020 season, with a total of 63,442 passengers and 18,499 crew (of which 11,375 disembarked and 10,990 embarked). The last vessel to call before the season was forced to close prematurely was the Bougainville, operated by the Compagnie Du Ponant on March 11, 2020.
Since the announcement earlier this year that Seychelles would be reopening its vast ocean territory to cruise liners, cruise shipping lines along with their partners in Seychelles have been hard at work, planning voyages, itineraries and on-shore programmes, with calls scheduled from November 2021 right through to February 2024.