How Covid-19 has changed the future of cruise ship design – and made them even safer

Gary Buchanan
·4-min read
MSC Seashore, one of the most advanced ships being built, will feature "Safe Air" technology
MSC Seashore, one of the most advanced ships being built, will feature "Safe Air" technology

With their fleets lying idle, cruise lines are reviewing all operational aspects to devise measures that can be incorporated to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, thus ensuring that when cruising does restart, it will be safe.  

All elements of the cruise experience are being proactively scrutinised: how passengers check in, how they embark and disembark, how they move around the ship, how they eat, how they socialise, how they’re entertained, as well as how they explore ports of call. 

In tandem with this reset of seaborne mores, new protocols for passengers and crew will be adopted, these include: mandatory Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, thermal scanning, obligation to wear face coverings when moving around the ship, plus enhanced quarantine and emergency plans. Anti-pathogen disinfection measures will be facilitated by new technologies such as: autonomous robotic cleaning using UVC, ultrasonic cloud system of anti-viral Foggers, as well as biocidal sanitising products. 

Some pundits view these measures as a short-term fix and are calling for a reassessment of the overall design of new ships, but the journey from drawing board to delivery can be a long one. In a cutting-edge industry, it’s no surprise that some concepts are nothing short of revolutionary. In the past few weeks, several world-renowned maritime architects have offered shrewd insight into cruise ship design for a new era. 

The future will see all-encompassing innovation of the ship’s layout to permit physical distancing, accommodation will also be the focus of profound changes. There could be a higher proportion of cabins with verandas; as well as larger cabins which have a sanitising ‘wet-room’ in their vestibule, plus touch-free bathroom fittings. It’s almost certain that internal passenger cabins have been consigned to history; while in crew quarters there will be a maximum of two persons per cabin.

The seismic effects of coronavirus will be felt in the coming generations of cruise ships
The seismic effects of coronavirus will be felt in the coming generations of cruise ships

Restaurants will be redesigned in terms of table size and spacing. Buffets, if they exist at all, will be transformed and implement design improvements and equipment innovations to make it a protected space. There will also be stipulations for anti-microbial carpets and fabrics. 

In a recent webinar, US business director of Sweden-based Tillberg Design, Per Lindqvist, said, “Ships will have to be thought out in a healthier and safer way. As well as coming up with new notions of how passengers and crew interact around the vessel. One of the main ways to ensure health protocols are adhered to, will be via touchless tech.

“Technology and design will be a large part of the solution and shipyards will have to accommodate new concepts when it comes to finding common solutions. The construction of new ships should be based on what we have learned since the advent of coronavirus.” 

He added: “I think the majority of new builds will have to improve fresh air circulation of the ships and air-conditioning should have the ability to be compartmentalised. Vertical communication in all parts of the ship will have to be used in a safer way. We might even see elevator bellboys assisting in a protected way to move between decks.”

Speaking to Telegraph Travel, Marco De Jorio, the CEO of De Jorio Design International, envisages an even more radical solution.

“Vertical connection is of paramount importance on ships. The ideal solution is to replace elevators with escalators, or even an external moving platform similar to that which already exists on Celebrity’s Edge series of ships,” he said.

“Internal passenger access is also an issue if one-way flow is to be incorporated, this will then require more internal crossing points between port and starboard corridors. From a social distancing perspective, the passageways are the most problematic as currently they are at best 1 to 1.2 metres wide.”

De Jorio Design International has been fully involved in the creation of the MSC Cruises’ fleet since 2000 and is renowned for its technological advances in all its fields of expertise. Now focusing on the new challenge for cruise ship architecture, Marco De Jorio said: “Designers, microbiologists and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system) specialists must cooperate for the definition of future furnishings and materials,” he said. 

One of these challenges has already materialised with the announcement by MSC Cruises that they will be the first cruise line in the world to install a new and advanced innovative technology sanitation system called “Safe Air”.

“Safe Air” will be fitted on MSC Seashore, one of the largest and most technologically advanced ships ever built in Italy. The first of two ships in the “Seaside Evo” class is currently under construction at Fincantieri’s Monfalcone shipyard and set to be delivered in July 2021.

This next-generation sanitation system is based on the technology of UVC lamps in combination with the ship’s air-conditioning system, whereby the air flow is radiated at the source with a short wavelength light that hits organic particles and prevents the circulation of air pollutants such as viruses, bacteria and mould. 

Ships will soon be sailing into a brave new world – one that will be, by design, a safer one.