A ‘blue ribbon’ group of experts has been formed by the boss of MSC Cruises as the line prepares a new operating protocol to return to service.

The new initiative by executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago builds on the development of new health and safety measures to support a return to service, potentially in the Mediterranean first,  “once the time is right”. 

Global ocean cruising has been at a standstill for months due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

MSC Cruises has used the time to establish an in-house taskforce to develop enhanced operating protocols.

Details will be announced soon, designed to “meet and exceed” guidelines provided by key international and regional regulatory and technical bodies,  including the World Health Organisation and European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

The external experts will support the line’s own efforts and follows rival Royal Caribbean Cruises establishing a similar panel of specialists.

MSC Cruises has worked to encompass “every aspect of the guest’s journey” from the moment of booking to embarkation, life on board and through to the return back home. 

Vago said: “I am pleased to announce that 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.

“The objective of our Blue Ribbon Covid expert group in the fields of medicine, public health, and/or related scientific disciplines is to create a group of highly qualified and internationally respected experts to inform and review our initiatives as they relate to Covid-19 to help ensure that the actions taken are appropriate, effective, and informed by the best available science and health practices.

“For this reason, this expert group will have competency to review policy initiatives, technical innovations, or operational measures related to Covid-19.

“It 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 executive vice president for maritime policy and government affairs, added: “Since the early days when it came to 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 the industry association Clia.

“To this end, 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.”

“Currently, 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.

“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.”

Darr said: “To this end, we also have engaged a specialised maritime classification society to provide third-party verification that our protocols and procedures meet established EU-level guidance.”