Cruise ship graveyard is tragic ‘new normal’

The Aliaga shipyard offers a brutal reminder of the impact COVID-19 has had on the cruise industry.

Five gigantic vessels sit packed close together in western Turkey as they’re slowly stripped for parts.

The sector became one of the early focuses of the pandemic. Several cruise ships saw some of the earliest clusters of COVID-19 as the pandemic slowly started to wreak havoc on every continent.

The Diamond Princess was left in limbo back in February as the Japanese authorities stopped the ship from sailing.

The US subsequently issued a no-sail order for all cruise ships back in March, which still remains in place.

Fast forward to the last quarter of 2020 and the current scene in Aliaga is the obvious result of those tough calls.

An army of workers are currently dismantling the vessels – each of which are 850ft long. Three more ships will arrive at the Aegean coast’s cruise ship graveyard imminently.

The decision to scrap a cruise vessel at an EU approved yard Turkey, is not just a financial decision but is also impacted by public relations.

Many ships are scrapped in south-east Asia, a region dogged by allegations of labour and environmental malpractices. It’s thought that scrapping a vessel in Turkey costs owners an extra $160 per tonne compared to India or Pakistan.

Kamil Onal, who is the chairman of a ship-recycling industrialists’ association in the Aliaga shipyard, told the Sunday Times that these are unprecedented times.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said.

In the last 10 years we only recycled four or five ships in total, and they were smaller than these ones. Now this year there are at least seven.

“We’re giving all the pianos away as presents.

“These ships are just enormous. I walked inside one of them. It was huge.”

Keeping a fleet idle is an expensive business. Operators can put their ship in “hot” or “cold” lay-up. Ships in hot lay-up have their crew aboard and are ready to go. But given the current situation, that’s not deemed a feasible option in the majority of cases.

Vessels in cold lay-up, meanwhile, have their systems shut down. Carnival suggested earlier this month that a vessel in hot lay-up costs $2-3m per month. A cold lay-up is considerably cheaper in percentage terms, but will still see operators burn through around $1m per vessel.

As coronavirus swept through the Diamond Princess nine months ago, Kentaro Iwata – an infectious disease expert at Kobe University Hospital – boarded the ship. At the time, he described the procedures onboard as “completely inadequate”.

However, much has changed in that time as we’ve learned how to help contain the virus and mitigate the risks of infection.

Related: [VIDEO] The challenges of the ferry industry

With an estimated 1.2 million people around the world dependent on cruise tourism to pay their bills, Julie Green of Cruise Lines International Association believes now is the time get the industry up and running again.

“It has been an incredibly challenging time not just for the cruise lines but also for the supply chain involved,” she explained.

“There is absolutely a way of restarting cruises safely.

“While the industry has been suspended there has been a lot of work in terms of inventing advanced protocol. We already had a very stringent protocol, but it is being developed even further.”

* You can track the movement of cruise ships around the world using MarineTraffic data.

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