A cruise ship captain whose liner found safe harbour in Barbados at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic made good on his promise to return to the island.
In a welcome back ceremony at the Bridgetown Port, an emotional Captain Boris Becker once again thanked Barbados for its hospitality during the month the AIDAPerla stayed here when the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) called a temporary halt to cruise ship operations in March 2020.
During the four-week stay, the cruise vessel worked with the Bridgetown Port and agents Foster and Ince and Platinum Port Agents, to repatriate the passengers and crew.
The AIDAPerla, which is sailing at 50 per cent capacity, arrived Wednesday afternoon with 1,600 passengers and over 1,000 crew members.
Captain Becker told those gathered for the ceremony, including Minister of Tourism and International Transport Senator Lisa Cummins, Minister of Maritime Affairs Kirk Humphrey, tourism industry figures, crew members and passengers that the days before coming to Barbados were difficult “because we saw everywhere the doors were closing”.
He said: “And normally you would say every port should guarantee a safe haven, but they weren’t. And then we came to Barbados and Barbados was opened for us and stood with us also in those difficult times. You know like in a relationship, like in your family, you stand together when it counts. And I think this is important and I am really so thankful.
“Now after 610 days we are back here in Barbados. I promised we will be back, bringing back passengers and of course also business to the port and here we are. Not yet with a full ship because we have to take it slowly. All of our passengers are vaccinated, we do testing and everything, but still we have to be very careful, everybody has to be very careful, the pandemic is not yet over.
“So, we are doing it slowly but steadily, step by step, doing more and more and seeing that we can do it safe because we not only want to protect our business, we also want to protect the places we are going to, the communities we are going to, and of course, all Barbadians.”
Before setting sail from the Bridgetown Port in late April 2020, the AIDAPerla’s remaining crew onboard said thank you to the nation in a light display on board the ship that read ‘Thank You BB’ while crew members shouted the words from the deck.
“You ask why did I make this message when leaving,” said Captain Becker “Not because of making some nice moments or advertising, it was really coming from my heart because all these people here really supported us and stood up for us and said we need to support AIDA, we need to support the crew.
“And not only from the politics and from the management of the port, but also the port workers; from the linesmen to the pilots to the taxi drivers bringing us to the airports, to the hospitals, to wherever we needed to go. To the port workers helping us in provisioning, all of these people helped us and stood for us.”
Senator Cummins said the notion of ships sailing at 50 per cent capacity invites tourism stakeholders to have a conversation around how Barbados extracts more from less. She said this is the time to explore options of developing a new transformational model in the industry that allows for value to be extracted with fewer visitors passing through the island.
She said while the cruise season has officially started, it is unknown when there will be a return of 100 per cent sailing on cruise ships.
Senator Cummins said: “Inevitably that may happen by the season 2022-2023, 2023-2024, it may come even sooner. But how do we make sure that lives and livelihoods are protected in the interim and that is a broad policy conversation around the issues of sustainability and transformation, including structural transformation of our business models, that we as a people need to have.”
The tourism minister said while the Government established cruise protocols to allow cruise ships to use Barbados as a safe haven, the protocols also include a commitment that in the event vessels have emergencies that require them to find safe harbour, Barbados remains an option. Senator Cummins also announced that new maritime legislation is coming to protect the rights of cruise vessel workers. (AH)