By Neil Shorthouse

Beep Beep / Beep Beep, where the hell was my pager, ah found it – the message reads 911 / Proceed to Captain’s Office, it was 06:30 hrs Thankfully I was on the bridge wing having my morning coffee, enjoying another sunrise whilst at sea. On arrival at the Captain’s office, I found out I was the last one to arrive, as the other officers present all had cabins up on the bridge deck. Yet I was the only one in uniform, the hotel manager, had literally got out of bed, and she was not best pleased! The look, said it all… 

The Captain looked at me and asked if I had slept in my uniform, although he knew I had been having my morning coffee, having already passed me on the bridge. Pleasantries over, he proceeded to explain that we were due to enter areas that are known for pirates, no not the ones with a patch flying the Jolly Roger, modern day ones with speed boats and guns, yes guns and they have been known to use them in the past. Therefore, additional measures would be taken as we entered these waters. 

He then proceeded to show us his new outfit for the bridge, something out of ‘Dad’s Army’ yet it is a required precaution and part of the company’s protocol, at which point we were all given a document, titled ‘Safe Haven’ which had numerous headings and sub-headings, of which I will not go into as these are very much still in use and active – also highly confidential! 

One that we are finding ourselves in, during this current challenging time, could be almost described as being in ‘Safe Haven’ in essence an additional emergency response drill, which locates all ships personnel and guests in a pre-designated area onboard known as ‘Safe Haven’ and this is where in case of a threat all ships personnel muster and remain until such time as deemed safe to return back to normal shipboard duties, or to enjoy your well-earned G&T. 

During ‘Safe Haven’, for it to be and remain effective requires everyone to participate and follow the instructions / guidelines as given by those assigned muster leaders, who ultimately will be guided by the Captain or the on-scene officer as to what can be done. One moment you are outside enjoying life, having coffee, catching up with friends, and then suddenly you are inside, no friends, potentially separated from loved ones. 

It’s during such times that everyone must listen to the clear instructions, and guidelines that are given –  they are for a reason, and ultimately could save your life. Individuals will want to break out, especially if you are in the location for a long period of time. Essential items, like medication would be distributed, food would be rationed so as not to waste, and also ensure you would have enough for the duration of the Safe Haven’ being active. 

What was once a holiday destination within the ocean, has become a military type operation, communication is via radio, and or video links, to keep everyone updated and focused. As well as keeping all safe. Minutes, turn into hours, hours turn into days, and days turn into weeks, this is what we are facing at present due to COVID-19 

Life as we know it has stopped, reliance on the ability to nip outside for a ride or coffee has gone. The ability to worship at your place of worship has gone, media dominates the airwaves – what we believe to be true or not is everyone’s freedom of choice. Rumours will travel faster than you realise. Onboard a ship the Captain is in-charge and he/she directs the team on what must be done, and how it shall be done. During these times, it is not for us to questions, it is for us to listen, observe and follow, once this is over then we can review what happened and how to ensure we are prepared should something else like this happen again. Even shoreside personnel are a support during an emergency and are also guided by the ship’s Captain. 

At present you have many ships sailing the oceans with a full complement of crew, and they are safe, yet they still take precautionary measures, social distancing, everyone in their own room. Special events are being shown on television and social media. Places of worship are offering services online with live camera feeds, so as to engage and feel that sense of community and belonging. 

The Maldives challenge is ensuring that the entire population of Male is kept safe. We have seen how quick COVID-19 can spread, it is like a spider’s web, especially in a city such as Male given the proximity of individuals to one another. 

Even those crew who are onboard ships and have been isolated for 14 days, the moment they travel and arrive in any destination they have to isolate again for 14 days. If following that they still have to travel home, then once home they isolate again for 14 days. It is tough, especially when you have self- isolated in resorts so close to home.

It is no time to celebrate, as you are potentially passing through areas where those who are infected have been and therefore the potential still exists to come into contact with the virus. 

A ship has many protocols in place to deal with outbreaks, and during certain periods onboard, the ships are constantly being cleaned by hand. This applies to your home, as well as any means of transport taken. 

There is light at the end of this journey, and once the ship returns safe back to port, the sun will shine and we will look back with 2020 being the year that we fought an invisible war by listening, paying attention and playing our part. 

Your ‘Safe Haven’ right now is your own home, the resorts, hotels, and boats that you live on. We will have washed our hands too many times to mention, disinfected door handles until they shone bright. 

Stay focused, aim for the moment you can rejoice once more with your family and friends. 

Having personally lost my own mother during this time to cancer, and having restrictions placed on our family, I know firsthand the challenges faced, as well as being on the front line during outbreaks at sea. Therefore I am here to help you all where I can. Our team is also here to support you during this time, and we have set-up various online platforms for you to speak with us within a group or individually. 

You are not alone in this fight, and we will come out stronger, wiser and determined to enjoy life. 

Please contact our team at info@shorthousehospitality.com