When the scale of the COVID-19 crisis first became clear, the market, across almost all sectors, was hindered by uncertainty. Indeed, this is a microcosm of the position that most of the world found itself in. However, as we have continued on through this crisis, hope and confidence have begun to return to various market sectors. Chief among the good news is the knowledge that, in some way, shape or form, there will be a Mediterranean charter season in 2020. However, as brilliant as the charter market getting up and running again is, it does present some challenges.
Regions such as Croatia and Greece are leading the way as potential superyachting hotspots, with Italy also recently announcing the various protocols that must be adhered to for both private and charter yachts. All the aforementioned destinations have laid out their requirements for superyacht charter and private usage, and no doubt many more regions have followed, or will follow, suit. While these requirements have come in various formations of red tape, hygiene and social distancing measures, they are by no means uniform.
Last week, SuperyachtNews announced that ABS Group, a subsidiary of American Bureau of Shipping, has developed a model to help superyachts operate safely by advising on a variety of on-board measures that are catered to various spaces and the uses thereof. However, the underlining issue associated with any on-board measures, even with the best of intentions, is the assumption that these measures will be adhered to by owners and their parties, as well as charter guests. For many owners and charter guests, superyachts represent an opportunity to enjoy time with various family members, friends and loved ones in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. How likely is it then that social distancing measures will be adhered to and, furthermore, how are the protocols put forward by various local authorities to be enforced? Is it the crew’s responsibility to remind guests to keep one metre away from any loved one that doesn’t live in their own household? I think not.
The hope is, I suppose, that by the time the superyacht charter market begins in earnest, the measures enforced by various regions will be less draconian than they are today. Perhaps social bubbles will become the norm across Europe in due course? In the UK currently, however, it remains illegal to enter another person’s home, unless it is for the purposes of accessing their garden, at which point you must maintain the two-metre social distancing guidelines from any individual that is not from within your own household. However, if you give an inch people will often take a mile and all over the country social distancing measures are beginning to be flaunted, especially when the potent mixture of sun and booze enters the equation – two staples of the superyacht experience. Realistically, for all the various governmental guidance notes and rules the message remains the same, be careful and do not take unnecessary risks.
It will be near impossible for crews to stop owners and guests doing whatever it is they want to do when on board, whether that be hugging, kissing, shaking hands, sharing drinks or sitting around the table for dinner. Indeed, the rules pertaining to these interactions vary between countries. In Italy, currently, measures require that guests from different households maintain a one-metre distance between themselves when on board private or charter vessels, whereas in Croatia there are no limitations for personal interactions, which has no doubt contributed massively to its current popularity. So much, therefore, relies on the assumption that superyacht crews have taken lockdown seriously and adhered to the correct measures throughout the crisis and the availability of COVID-19 testing to guests and crews. Indeed, videos are already appearing online of superyachts undergoing full sanitisation. I believe that we can, for the most part, assume that superyachts are sterile environments for guests, we can also further assume that the world’s HNW and UHNWIs have weathered the storm in the most desirable conditions available and are, therefore, the least likely of individuals to be spreading the disease.
The onus, however, regardless of what measures are in place by the time superyacht charters begin, will be on superyacht crews to control that which they can. To expect any charter party, that consists of individuals from more than one household, to abide by rules of any sort, is farfetched. Whether in Croatia or Italy, on board interactions will realistically remain the same. Should guests choose to mix with one another, they will be accepting the risk of transmission, no matter how slight that risk may be, but at least it will be their own choice. My concern, primarily, is for the safety of superyacht crew, for whom interaction with clients is a professional necessity and not a personal choice. More than ever before, it will be important for crew to set boundaries, abide by new professional standards, manage expectations and practice what they preach. It may be that crew will choose to wear PPE, or rely increasingly on the service of food and beverages on board through the various applications available to the market today. Whatever systems are in place, crew should not let the actions and demands of their clients compromise their safety.
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