It is hard to believe that just a few short months ago, 2020 looked like it would be a banner year for business.
But with such optimism on the horizon, the world was taken entirely off guard by an unexpected pandemic called COVID 19. As an international company traveling the world, it was inevitable that we, just like the entire tourism industry, would be swept up in the fallout. The consequence of this virus has changed everything, an unprecedented event.
With the ceasing of operations for all ships and flights and the closing of borders and ports worldwide, we found ourselves with a severe crisis on our hands. The whole world seemed to stand still; quarantine became the new norm. Crisis brings out the best and worst in people. As they say, “a calm water seaman is not a sturdy seaman.” Not only were we all challenged with our immediate
need of disembarking guests and getting crew repatriated, but as an industry, we became part of the story for a time in the media.
We operated the OCEAN ATLANTIC, OCEAN ADVENTURER, SEA SPIRIT,
and GREG MORTIMER in the Antarctic, finishing up their final cruises for the season. In mid-March, they would head north for their Arctic season. The OCEAN ADVENTURER and SEA SPIRIT left
without any issues; however, the OCEAN ATLANTIC and GREG MORTIMER,
unfortunately, found themselves in the thick of the pandemic, with limited ports and flights available. The M/V WORLD ODYSSEY finished her fall semester at sea earlier in Capetown on March 18, 2020 and the hotel crew remained onboard.
On April 1, the OCEAN ATLANTIC bid farewell to the last guests in Montevideo with no COVID-19 cases onboard. Conversely, the GREG MORTIMER did have some COVID-19 cases among the guests and crew, creating a much more challenging operation for everyone. After daily calls and video conferencing, we served the last passengers on April 15th.
As the world closed ports, the ships moved to the Canary Islands, awaiting their next assignment. Our hotel crew remained on board (as with all cruise ships during this crisis) in the Canary Islands and onboard the GREG MORTIMER in Montevideo, Uruguay. The biggest challenge was finding flights for our hotel crew. Flight restrictions, limited airlifts, daily domestic travel cancellations, and closed airports were regular issues.
To send our crew home earlier, in late April, the hotel crew from all the ships in the Canary Islands were relocated to the M/V OCEAN DIAMOND. She would then sail to Portsmouth in the UK, enabling us to get flights from London’s airports. At the time of print, there are still hotel crew onboard the ships.
How did those in the office fare with all of these challenges? On March 23, we started to work from home. With the help of our shareholders, we immediately began the challenge of protecting the future of our company and affiliate companies, Sunstone, and CMI. The Crew Loan Program was initiated, designed to assist those with financial need (including our CMI Leisure hotel crew) as a result of our client’s decision to lay-up their ships for the entire Arctic season. We are fortunate and very grateful to have shareholders with a long-term vision, immediately supporting the welfare of our hotel crew during these challenging times.
In April, we realized that this would not be business as usual; the future would look quite different. How we adapt to change and our willingness to “get on board” with it will differentiate us in the industry. Change will be the new normal.
We have been hard-hit as a company by the Corona Virus, as has the world. Sadly, one crew member died from the disease, and others onboard the GREG MORTIMER tested positive. There will be six ships (our clients) laid up during the Arctic season as well as the M/V VICTORY II, which adds tremendous financial challenge to the company.
Due to severe governmental restrictions around the world, some of our crew members have still been unable to get home or face quarantine upon their arrival. The new- build, OCEAN VICTORY, will be delayed until next year.
What have we learned? As the author of the One-Minute Manager, Kenneth Blanchard purports, as a leader during a crisis, you must be decisive. You must implement and follow the protocol in place to protect all your constituencies. Communication and education are essential, and the unknown becomes the enemy. While crises always vary a bit, we all remember and did gain valuable experience during the 2008 recession.
What feels like a category five hurricane decimating our industry, just know that we will prevail. They will find a cure or develop a vaccine. We are social creatures, and human interaction is part of our DNA. The fundamental values of cruising will not be blown away by one hurricane. Awareness, innovation, and flexibility have always been the hallmarks of the cruise industry and will continue to be. Our onboard public health standards and procedures have always been above and beyond compliance.
Thank you to our crew. Your humanitarian efforts throughout this crisis are much appreciated. Despite the fear and anxiety you faced, you rose to the occasion.
The cruise industry has overcome significant obstacles over the years, and it is resilient.
We will endure and flourish thanks to our excellent crew, employees, clients, suppliers, and guests. I am confident that the small-ship cruise segment will be well-positioned moving forward. Our remote and unique, once-in-a- lifetime destinations will still be in demand once travel restrictions are lifted. Until then, my sincerest thanks for all you do.
We stand ready and anxiously await the time when we can resume operations and continue doing our part and what we do best; contributing to memorable guest experiences!