Cruise ship docked in South Harbour, Helsinki
Solutions to help the cruise industry to recover after the coronavirus pandemic have been on the drawing board also in Finland. Image: Sanga / Adobe

Finland helps cruise sector find its sea legs after COVID-19

Solutions from Finland are helping the cruise industry to resume growth in a post-pandemic world characterised by strict health protocols.

Aleksi Teivainen

28.10.2021

Passenger volumes have plummeted, operations have been suspended and losses have mounted in the global cruise industry due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the safety and wellbeing of passengers has always been the key priority for the industry, today its recovery hinges on its ability to meet the expectations placed on it by both customers and authorities in the wake of the pandemic, be it health or sustainability-related.

Solutions to help the industry re-discover its sea legs have been on the drawing board also in Finland.

Healthy Travel, a project initiated in the second half of last year by Business Finland, has brought together researchers, cruise lines, shipyards and subcontractors to seek means to improve health and safety on ships and in passenger terminals.

The project has yielded, for example, models to analyse passenger flows on different types of vessels, protocols to minimise the risk of infection, cost-effective testing solutions to prevent infected people from boarding ships and insights on what lies ahead for the industry in the post-pandemic world.

“We have identified situations where the risk of spreading the virus is particularly high and developed processes and procedures to minimise the risks,” summarised Magnus Hellström, associate professor of industrial management at Åbo Akademi.

A man leaning on the ship chain

Jonas Spohr, lecturer of industrial management at Åbo Akademi, believes we need to understand the bigger trends shaping the future of the cruise industry. Image: Åbo Akademi University

The contributors also looked beyond the pandemic, mulling over questions such as who will be the customers of tomorrow, what will they value in the cruise experience, how trends like sustainability will shape the cruise industry and how the industry can support such changes.

“The pandemic will pass at some point, and the ships will be much safer than before, so we also need to understand the bigger trends shaping the future of the industry,” said Jonas Spohr, lecturer of industrial management at Åbo Akademi.

“Creating new technical, digital, and sustainable solutions or ideas to improve passengers’ cruise experience will likely generate more business.”

Analysing airborne dispersion

The risk of contracting an airborne virus such as the new coronavirus in indoor spaces depends on a variety of factors including the volume of the space, the flow of people and the air purification and ventilation systems.

The first part of the equation, however, is determining how wide a carrier disperses the virus by breathing, coughing or sneezing.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in January unveiled a robot head that is capable of discharging precisely defined consistencies of aerosols and droplets, enabling researchers to track how the particles spread after an exhalation, cough, sneeze or utterance and how the spread is affected by face masks and air filtration, purification and ventilation solutions.

Robot coughing on a plastic dish

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has built an artificial human head that is a useful tool in the design and planning of indoor spaces, including ships and terminals. Image: Tampere University / VTT

“Used with the right kind of measuring technology, the robot can be a useful tool in the design and planning of all kinds of indoor spaces, including ships and terminals,” said Topi Rönkkö, associate professor of aerosol physics at Tampere University.

The Business Finland-funded research project will in its second phase utilise the robot in further experiments to develop and verify models that enhance understanding of aerosol spread in indoor settings.

Jettisoning impurities

The risk of airborne transmission is high especially in crowded and poorly ventilated settings where people tend to spend long periods of time, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Air quality is thereby of utmost importance for minimising the risk of transmission on cruise ships – an early realisation for ALMACO and Genano. The Finnish duo announced at the end of last year they have struck a partnership to improve crew and passenger health by removing impurities of all sizes, including the new coronavirus, from the air on cruise ships.

The partnership will make use of the patented filtration technology of Genano and maritime-industry connections of ALMACO.

Cross-cut view of Genano's air filtration system

Genano’s filtration technology has been shown to remove even the smallest microbes from air, including the coronavirus. Image: Genano

“Genano is the most trusted actor in this field, with more than 20 years’ experience in the most demanding settings, such as hospital operating theatres,” stated Erik Schobesberger, head of modernisation and newbuilding support at ALMACO.

The filtration technology has been shown to remove even the smallest microbes from air, including the new coronavirus. It contributes also to the overall health of crew and passengers on cruise ships by decontaminating the air from mould, ozone, pollen, odours and harmful gases.

Reducing over-crowding

Hypercell and KONE have turned their attention to the flow of people and goods in an attempt to improve health on vessels and in terminals. Both companies have taken a data-based approach to the issue, utilising sensors installed on ships to make sure the solutions adopted by the industry are as effective as possible.

Timo Pakarinen, managing director of marine business at KONE, pointed out that the next few steps for the industry are critical, given how much is at stake.

“We have collected a great deal of data that supports the companies’ decision-making,” he commented in a press release. “Any changes on cruise ships must be fact-based and commercially viable solutions because the investments required are so large.”

A cruise ship in the Gulf of Finland

According to Timo Pakarinen, managing director of marine business at KONE, any changes on cruise ships must be fact-based because the investments are very large. Image: miklyxa / Adobe

KONE has utilised 3D modelling to tackle the bottlenecks in passenger flows such as elevator and escalator lobbies, which present a high risk of exposure to the virus, and carried out airflow research to improve air quality and ventilation in lift cars in collaboration with VTT.

“The goal is peace of mind for the users by minimising the health risks in our elevators,” said Pakarinen.

Hypercell’s Bluetooth sensors, similarly, can be used to monitor passenger flows and issue notifications if any area becomes over-crowded. The system is also capable of creating name tags for all passengers or employees, enabling employees to locate everyone exposed to the virus and the faster evacuation in the event of an emergency.

The collected data is anonymous and complies with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), assured Hypercell.

“Our technology could quickly locate the tagged employees working on the different decks of a large vessel and guide their evacuation via the safest routes,” elaborated Sami Vepsäläinen, chief operations officer at Hypercell.

Many of the collaborative projects have been funded by Business Finland.

“Finland now offers leading technologies and solutions focusing on indoor air quality, passenger flows, safety protocols and touchless solutions,” listed Ulla Lainio, head of marine and ports industry at Business Finland.

“The insights gained from this vital research are also contributing to the design of new ships.”

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