Sailing amusement palace is not what it used to be

Asia's Tech News Daily

Sailing amusement palace is not what it used to be

The port of Rotterdam overtakes a new cruise ship as if there had never been a corona crisis. The fire boats spray meters high columns of water. Passing ships sound their horns and the cruise ship honks back. The Port of Rotterdam Authority sails with proud drivers towards the cruise ship on the Nieuwe Maas. Enthusiasts gather on the Erasmus Bridge so as not to miss anything of the arrival.

However, this entry is not as usual. This is the Rotterdam, the new flagship of Holland America Line (HAL) and the seventh passenger ship to bear that name. Predecessor Rotterdam V, is now a floating hotel elsewhere in the city. And the Rotterdam VI In the hands of a Greek owner, an uncertain fate awaits: HAL sold the ship in the summer of 2020 to survive the corona crisis.

The new Rotterdam is one of the first cruise ships to call at the port since the corona crisis – and it hit cruise shipping hard. Economically, but also in terms of tourist confidence. After the first infections, at the beginning of 2020, cruise ships turned out to be errant sources of infection. They were not allowed to dock anywhere.

A group of American former passengers is now filing a lawsuit against Carnival, the owner of HAL and the largest cruise company in the world. They believe that the shipping company has not protected them well enough against Covid-19 on board.

In 2019, global cruise shipping transported 29.7 million passengers, in the corona year 2020 ‘only’ 5.8 million

In 2020, according to industry association Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), global cruise shipping carried ‘just’ 5.8 million passengers. In the previous ten years, the number of passengers had increased from 17.8 million (2009) to 29.7 million (2019). Now, a year and a half later and with billions in losses in the entire cruise sector, the major shipowners are clambering back a bit.

Also read: Venice to ban large cruise ships

Meanwhile, the world has changed. Citizens have become more critical of cruise shipping. Can you still take a heavy fuel oil passenger ship to Alaska, where climate change is most evident? How responsible is a cruise ship that emits carbon dioxide, particulate matter and sulfur over the city centers where it moors? Venice has banned the big ships from the city, residents of Barcelona want the same, and there are Rotterdammers who wonder what the sailing entertainment palaces have to offer their city. Rotterdam would receive more and more cruise ships that are relatively old and therefore more polluting.

Under those circumstances, the Rotterdam VII will arrive in Rotterdam on Thursday. But on board De Nieuwe Maza, the vessel of the Port of Rotterdam Authority, there is mainly relief that sailing is underway again. The Dutch sales director of HAL cannot suppress a deep sigh when he sees the new flagship on the Nieuwe Maas. And no request is too much for the Rotterdam harbor master: of course he ensures that the second fire boat will be in view for the photographers.

Sailing amusement palace is not what it used to be

President Gus Antorcha of the Holland America Line. Photo Camiel Mudde

‘Amazing’ history

Holland America Line’s president Gus Antorcha, the cruise company’s top executive, can’t stop talking about the “amazinghistory of his company. “It is a great moment to be able to welcome the Rotterdam to Rotterdam. The history of the company is so intertwined with the city.” Friday it was 149 years ago that the first Rotterdam left for New York with, according to tradition, ten cabin passengers and sixty emigrants. The new Rotterdam can accommodate 2,668 guests.

No HAL without Rotterdam – according to HAL. The company renamed the ship, which would initially be called Rijndam, at the yard of the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri in Venice to Rotterdam when number 6 was sold faster.

“The company has always been very conservatively financed,” Antorcha says of the financial problems due to the corona crisis. “That helped us through the crisis and allowed us to raise money on the capital market.” Parent company Carnival suffered a loss of 10.2 billion dollars (8.8 billion euros) in 2020 on a turnover of 5.6 billion dollars.

In total, HAL sold four of the fourteen ships during the crisis. By the end of the year, Antorcha expects to sail again with six. Last week he was in San Diego where the Koningsdam departed for its first cruise in a year and a half; the Nieuw Amsterdam and the Eurodam are also sailing again. All of HAL’s ships, owned by Carnival since 1989, have names ending in ‘-dam’.

HAL has to start sailing again to generate income, it’s that simple, according to Antorcha. „But we never got to the point where it very scary used to be.” Reflecting on the first months of the corona crisis, Antorcha says: “Not everything has gone as we would have liked. Some guests have fallen ill on board. But I think everyone understands that we did everything we could to get everyone home safely.”

Vaccinated passengers only

According to the HAL president, the industry has taken so many measures that a cruise is now “one of the safest forms of vacation our guests can book”. HAL requires passengers to be vaccinated. In addition, they must present a negative Covid-19 test before boarding. Crew members are also vaccinated, tested regularly and wear face masks.

The Carnival group installed additional filters on all ships. There are also more medical facilities on board, plus quarantine rooms. And agreements have been made with every port that a ship of the group calls at in case a person on board has Covid-19. “We no longer have the uncertainty of the start of the corona crisis,” says Antorcha. He did not keep track of how much the group has invested in extra ‘corona measures’. “It is a substantial amount. But these are investments you have to make.”

The second crisis that the cruise industry must tackle is the climate crisis. According to the European environmental organization Transport & Environment (T&E), cruise ships have “a disproportionate impact on air quality, the living environment and the climate”. Cruise shipping is “reluctant,” says T&E, to use technology that can make the industry cleaner.

The large ships need more fuel for the many amenities (hotels, entertainment) and they sail fast and close to the coast. The use of large amounts of fuel causes emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur compounds and particulate matter close to populated areas.

HAL president Gus Antorcha calls action against climate change important. “The question is: do we take our impact on the living environment seriously? Yes, look at the investments. Are we getting better at it? Yes. Are we perfect? No, that’s nobody. We’re not there yet.”

He contradicts the accusation that cruise companies do not want to invest in sustainable technology. Although the Rotterdam sails on heavy fuel oil and not on the (slightly) cleaner liquid natural gas (liquefied natural gas, LNG) like other new ships of the group, HAL does apply other sustainable techniques. The decision to order the $700 million ship, he says, dates from before LNG became more available in ports worldwide.

“As early as 2003, we took steps to reduce sulfur and particulate emissions. We eventually took over the company that developed this technology. Regulations were only introduced in 2013.” The company also invests in shore power facilities in North American ports.

If a ship plugs in a big plug as soon as it is docked, it no longer has to burn fuel oil to keep everything on board running. The port of Rotterdam expects to be able to offer HAL shore power from sustainable sources around 2024. The European Commission’s climate package Fit for 55 calls sustainable shore power a way to make shipping more climate neutral.

According to Antorcha, when planning new routes, it matters whether its ships can dock at ‘sustainable’ locations. “Ports in Norway are already competing with each other through these facilities. We are under a lot of pressure to show sustainable improvements.”

Water bubbles under the keel

Furthermore, HAL is investing “tens of millions” in a technique that blows water bubbles under the keel, so that the ship experiences less friction. That saves fuel and emissions. The company also installed all kinds of water treatment plants. “Once the wastewater has been cleaned, you can simply drink it again. Although I have never done that myself.” I do, adds his PR director. “It tastes salty.”

Sailing amusement palace is not what it used to be

Also read: Ship with roller coaster must save cruise sector

The simplest way to limit emissions in Rotterdam, Barcelona, ​​Dubrovnik or Venice is no longer to build in the old city centre. If you want to make an excursion ashore, simply take the (electric) bus. That is also even better for the shipping company’s income. After all, an old adage in the cruise industry says: “The ship is the attraction, not the port.”

Before the corona crisis, cruise companies made a loss on the ticket price that the passenger pays; profit is made from additional activities, such as dining, theaters, casinos and excursions.

But Antorcha is against this. “It is important to moor in the city. Remember, we sell holidays and take people to places they want to go. Another point is our economic impact. For Rotterdam it is slightly different, but in some places we are the main bringer of tourists to a city.” According to Antorcha, there are places in Alaska where HAL operates that rely heavily on cruise passengers. “A year and a half without cruise ships was devastating to the economy there.”

Meanwhile, the local economy of the Rotterdam will get going on Thursday. “It is a town, no City“, says Antorcha. “This is a middle class ship. Within Carnival and among the competitors there are much larger ships. Those are real cities. The Rotterdam is big enough to offer a lot of entertainment with multiple restaurants and entertainment. And compact enough to feel rich and elegant.”

The crew straightens the chairs at the indoor pool, the piano tuner takes care of the grand piano in the sea food restaurant. The Rotterdam will sail this week to Amsterdam, then to Fort Lauderdale and then to the Caribbean.

Sailing amusement palace is not what it used to be
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