‘No guests, no music’: When a cruise ship turned into a ferry service
The once vibrant global cruise tourism industry has been forced to drop anchor, with thousands of seafarers finding that their contracts have been abruptly cancelled.Updated: Jun 24, 2020 15:09 IST
A cruise, Celebrity Infinity, from Miami in the United States was the first such ship to dock at the Goa’s Mormugao port last week in more than three months and did so only as a ferry to bring back 1,450 seafarers from the state who were stranded in different ports of the world.
Capt Rajat Sharma, a marine pilot, has steered hundreds of cruise ships, but nothing could prepare him for the ‘surreal’ experience of piloting the Celebrity Infinity, a 11,788 DWT nearly 300m long cruise ship that sailed into Goa’s Mormugao Port on June 18.
“It was hard to believe it’s the same world we are living in... no guests, no music, no people, in the hall,” said Capt Sharma.
The once vibrant global cruise tourism industry has been forced to drop anchor, with thousands of seafarers finding that their contracts have been abruptly cancelled. While some cruise tourism companies have been chartering flights to ensure their staff can return home, others have decided to convert ships into ferries as repatriation flights have been difficult to access.
“Having piloted more than 100 cruise ships in Goa port, the experience was very different. The handshakes were replaced with sanitisers, broad smiles were replaced with masked people. The warmth I used to get from ship staff is replaced with a sense of fear,” Capt Sharma recounted.
“And the scene on the way to the bridge was not very pleasant. Some cabins were taped with yellow ribbons. Some cabins had food packets kept at the door. Not sure whether they were quarantined or the ship staff is following company SOP. It was like someone took the life out of that cruise ship. Now she’s just a ferry going from point A to B,” he added.
Tourism has been the hardest hit sector due to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe. Goa, which majorly depends on tourism, has been feeling the effect. The state has lost out on at least 15 cruise ships that were scheduled to make a port call at Mormugao before the season ended with the start of the monsoon.
Cruise passenger tourists have jumped from a mere 1,500 at the turn of the century in 2001-02 to nearly 1-lakh last year as vessels have got bigger and better and safer. The launch of regular cruise service between Goa and Mumbai and Mauritius helped the cause.
Goa was expecting in excess of 50 cruise ship arrivals, but only 38 arrived before the season was cut short.
However, cruise companies are confident of a post pandemic revival.
“The tourism industry is the most affected sector. The industry is suffering significant disruption which has largely impacted every sector of tourism, including the airline, hotel, travel, and cruise among others. In the past too we have grappled with many uncertainties we have managed to recover. This is because the travel industry is resilient and we are confident in making strong headwinds on our return,” Jurgen Bailom, President and CEO, Jalesh Cruises that runs a regular cruise service with Goa as one of the stops, said.
“Tourism globally is at a halt and will be for a while. However, in the coming future, if not international travel, domestic tourism will resume, as cruise tourism will be one of the first,” he added.