On Monday 20 September 2021, the arrival of the cruise ship Ms Artania (CruiseMapper) symbolises the future of the cruise sector in Zeebrugge. The ship is the first cruise ship to berth in Zeebrugge since 11 March 2020.
The cruise industry was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. With determination, the sector went in search of suitable measures that could offer them a future: the introduction of very strict health protocols on board, in the terminals and during shore excursions.
In addition to the obvious corona measures (social distancing, mouth masks and hand hygiene), the measures include the early introduction of health certificates, a limitation of the number of cruise guests, adapted ventilation systems, regular temperature checks and disinfection, one-way traffic on board, introduction of the bubble principle, medical staff with testing facilities and provisions for isolation and quarantine on board, ...).
Currently, most cruise companies require all passengers and crew members to be vaccinated and/or to have a Covid Safe Passport.
In the Mediterranean, among others, cruises have been taking place since last summer. The figures prove that the strict approach works. In the meantime, 48% of the cruise fleet is back in service and 1.8 million tourists have made a cruise trip again, with a total of 46 established Covid infections (0.003%).
Spurred on by the FPS Mobility and the North Sea Policy Unit, the Belgian government authorities created a framework at the end of July 2021 with the introduction of a 'cruise note' allowing our ports, under strict conditions, to welcome cruise passengers again. In August, the cruise ships ms Europa (Antwerp) and ms Hanseatic Inspiration (Ghent) already called at Belgian ports.
The 230m long ms Artania can accommodate 1,260 passengers. For this voyage however, the ship has only 876 German passengers on board, all of them vaccinated, as well as the entire crew.
The ship is chartered by the German tour operator Phoenix Reisen from Artania Shipping and started its journey in Bremerhaven and also calls at Le Havre and Rotterdam. In Zeebrugge, the ship is moored at the Swedish Quay from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. so that the passengers have plenty of time for a day trip.
The shipping police is responsible for targeted border checks and for the complete verification of the Covid certificate and the Passenger Location Form. The ABC cruise terminal and the ship are only accessible to passengers, crew and terminal personnel with a Covid certificate.
In principle, 26 cruise calls can still be expected in Zeebrugge this year, but whether this will go as far as that depends on further relaxation of the conditions of the government authorities.
In any case, the 2022 season heralds a hopeful beginning with 148 applications, while the counter for 2023 already stands at 106.