Things may not go as planned, but you have to have a plan even for that.
That dictum has proven to be a crucial and useful one through the Covid-19 pandemic for Lionel Wong, CEO of SATS-Creuers Cruise Services, the operator of the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore (MBCCS).
We planned for things to happen — it’s a matter of when, not if.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Wong and his team had to quickly adapt and learn on the go. With no cruise ships sailing, MBCCS swiftly pivoted its operations from a cruise terminal into a temporary dormitory when it housed more than 8,000 migrant workers on two docked cruise ships — SuperStar Gemini and SuperStar Aquarius.
The dormitory project during a five-month period from April to September last year also enabled Wong and his team to gain first-hand knowledge and experience of safe distancing and infection control measures.
Lionel Wong, CEO of SATS-Creuers Cruise Services, the operator of the Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore, believes in a multi-layered approach to safe cruising.
From there, a new modus operandi for cruise operations soon took shape, as the cruise terminal operator worked together with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and cruise lines to develop a stringent set of health and safety protocols for the safe resumption of cruises in Singapore in November 2020.
Prior to cruise embarkation, all passengers are required to test negative, be devoid of any respiratory infection symptoms, and must not be currently serving a Stay-Home Notice or Quarantine Order.
The multi-layered approach to safe cruising, which Wong likens to the renowned Swiss cheese model, would bring risks down to a minimum, although he stresses that risks cannot be totally eliminated.
“We planned for things to happen — it’s a matter of when, not if,” said Wong, adding that MBCCS, alongside other cruise industry stakeholders, worked with the Singapore authorities and cruise lines to develop an extensive range of contingency plans for every conceivable scenario. “We are equally concerned about what to do when one positive Covid-19 case happens.”
These mitigation plans were soon tested in December when Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas sailing had a reported Covid-19 case on board, although this case later turned out to be a false alarm.
“It was a clear-cut case that tested our protocols," recalls Wong of the incident, but the MBCCS team, with all the SOPs in place, disembarked all passengers safely in less than 24 hours and demonstrated Singapore’s preparedness for such cases. “We’ve gotten this down to a well-oiled machine.”
MBCCS has set up antigen rapid test facilities at its carpark for passengers of Genting Cruise Lines. Photo Credit: MBCCS
Test, test and keep testing
Looking ahead, Wong expects mass testing will remain a critical component in assessing safety for cruising in Singapore, even if vaccination levels in Singapore and worldwide continue to increase and more cruise lines implement mandatory vaccine policies.
For the two cruise lines given approval to sail in Singapore, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests are currently in use for Royal Caribbean, while MBCCS has also engaged healthcare provider Raffles Medical Group to set up antigen rapid test (ART) facilities at the terminal’s carpark for passengers of Genting Cruise Lines.
Wong is anticipating better, quicker and more cost-efficient testing methods. In particular, Wong is holding his breath for the breathalyser test, which is touted to have an efficacy on par with PCR tests but offer results within two minutes.
If testing indeed becomes “cheaper, better, faster”, that will offer sufficient leeway for MBCCS to improve customer experience with the reduced waiting time. “When that happens, it would enable us to ‘test and go’, instead of the current ‘test, wait, go’.”
Until then, the travel industry awaits and remains prepared.