ITalians are warm people but we have put aside, for a while, the handshakes and hugs that are our most beloved habits. We are on MSC Grandiosa, the first major cruise ship to set sail since the closure began in Europe.
It is August 16, 2020, a day after an Italian ministerial decree that allowed cruises to restart, and the Grandiosa has already set sail from Genoa.
“I’ve been on board since January 25,” says one of the Grandisoa crew with an air of frustration and nostalgia. “I have seen the ship stop and then leave again. I have never disembarked and, day by day, I have seen the world change ”.
“It was a sigh of relief for all of us,” he says. “After months of standing in the waters of the Mediterranean and the illusion of restarting the business, this was slow in coming.”
The stranded ship has become the home of other crew members who, like her, spend much of their lives at sea. Docked in the port of Civitavecchia near Rome, the ship remained operational during the Covid-19 pandemic thanks to its stranded crew.
The disruption of cruise ship traffic during the blockade drastically reduced emissions from ships, but pollution from ports has reached worrying levels, especially on the Mediterranean docks. A report from the European Federation for Transport and Environment, a coalition of organizations dedicated to the fight against air pollution, states that in 2017, 203 luxury cruise ships in Europe consumed around 3,267 kilotonnes of fuel, emitting 10,286 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide, 155 kilotonnes of nitrogen oxides, 62 kilotonnes of sulfur oxides and 10 kilotonnes of particulate matter.
The lockdown reduced those emissions and hit the bottom line of the cruise industry. Carnival Corporation, one of the world’s largest leisure travel companies, reported closing the second quarter of 2020 with a net loss of $ 4.3 billion (£ 3.25 billion).
Miniature golf, dance classes and cinemas continue as usual, although now all meet the requirements for physical distancing and mask.
Now, as the industry slowly reboots, there is a new prototype for the cruise vacation.
“The incessant checks tick every day,” explains a member of the Grandiosa crew. “Mandatory swab tests are done before boarding the ship and hand disinfection. Face masks are even used in outdoor play activities. The maximum number of passengers that can be accommodated has been reduced from 5,000 to 1,500, but the number of domestic passengers has increased. [Italian] tourism.”
The new rules are designed to allow passengers to enjoy their vacation in peace, as if the virus belonged to another life. You can even hear the occasional cry of joy, muffled by masks. Whether the virus can be contained on board is another matter. Last week in the Caribbean, five passengers tested positive aboard a cruise ship.
The restart of the cruise has only been possible thanks to the creation of a bubble on board: a floating island of dreams, hopes and spent savings; young people on honeymoons with families and retired couples. The health emergency has reminded much of the world that the possibility of going on vacation is not a given.
“On board, it really feels like living in an idyllic place, where there is nothing to fear except that the swab test hurts,” says one of the passengers.
Our habits may have changed, but for now it appears that boating, both its pleasures and its environmental damage, will continue.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.