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COVID19: Six Carnival cruise ships choose Cyprus for lay-up

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Six ‘advanced’ passenger ships operated by cruise giant Carnival are laying up in Moni anchorage, east of Limassol, for the duration of the Covid-19 imposed restrictions that have halted cruises worldwide.

This follows an official announcement by the Cyprus shipping authorities on May 6 offering facilities for cruise ships to dock in its ports for refuelling, with operators and shipowners also allowed to bring their vessels to the island for a ‘hot lay-up’.

The six Carnival cruise ships will lay-up with crew on board until the cruise industry resumes, unlikely before October, according to leading operators.

The four-year-old Bahamas-flagged Seabourn Encore docked at Moni on May 29 and two days later the brand-new Sky Princess flying the Bermuda flag, offering passers-by an amazing sight.

A third Carnival cruise ship is imminent, with three more to follow.

“The vessels will be paying fees for anchorage, will be ordering goods and services from local suppliers to support the crews on board (there are no passengers) and will be utilising local companies to provide technical support and assistance,” the Deputy Ministry of Shipping announced.

“The design of these high-technology, multi-million dollar vessels and the systems used in their operation are specifically built to meet the most stringent of environmental legislation and requirements that allow the vessels to operate in some of the most environmentally protected waters on our planet, such as Alaska and the Arctic.”

As crew changes slowly resume due to a limitation on international flights and Covid-19 related restrictions, allowing staff who have been stuck on ships or overstayed their work schedules to return home for long-overdue leave, the lay-up scheme will contribute significantly to Cyprus fee earnings, hit by the slowdown in world trade.

“The presence of these [six] ships in Cyprus waters allows us to demonstrate the strong support infrastructure that we can provide to operators in the cruise industry that will stand us in good stead to develop our relationships for further business in the future,” said Natasa Pilides, Shipping Deputy Minister.

During a ‘hot’ lay-up, the vessel is out of service but can be mobilised into service at short notice, whereas in ‘cold’ lay-up, it is moored or anchored at a safe place, awaiting newer employment or charter.

According to Marine Insight, a leading online maritime training and information platform, the term refers to “ships which have temporarily been taken out of profitable service due to lack of charter or cargo.

Sometimes, an increase in freight costs become insufficient to cover up for the ships’ running costs. ‘Laying up’ ships, therefore, makes sense to the owners during such rough times.”

Crew changes

The state-run Cyprus News Agency recently reported that “in a revised decree issued by the Minister of Health, the authorities said docking of cruise ships is allowed in Cyprus ports for reasons of refuelling and warm lay-up.

“Furthermore, the revised decree exempt from restrictions the crews of ships that are in warm lay up as well as crews of pleasure yachts.

The decree, however, prohibits crew members to disembark their vessels for any other reason other than crew change.”

The Health Minister had stated that from May 4, “docking of cruise liners for supplies (without disembarkation of passengers or crew replacement)” would be allowed, as well as “replacement of crews of commercial vessels and transfer of private crafts to licensed locations for the purpose of berthing, maintenance and repairs.”

In April, the Cyprus Shipping Chamber, whose members employ up to 60,000 seafarers onboard their vessels around the world, joined a global appeal to G20 leaders to facilitate crew changes and safeguard access to healthcare onshore to these ‘unseen heroes’ of world trade.

Leading maritime hubs, including Cyprus, have been calling for the recognition of seafarers as “key workers” and for much-needed crew-exchange to be allowed at key ports during the pandemic, permitting seafarers to safely embark and disembark from vessels.

CSC President Philippos Philis said in an earlier statement that “the Shipping Chamber noted with satisfaction the recent decision of the Cyprus government to allow crew changes on merchant ships”.

However, he added that an even more pressing issue is the immediate government support to Cyprus shipping.

“Despite facing substantial economic and operational difficulties both internationally and locally, it remains one of the most important and productive sectors of the Cyprus economy (contributing 7% of GDP).”