2020 will be remembered as the year when Covid changed everything.
Since it emerged in January, it’s killed hundreds of thousands of people and created turmoil in every single country across the world. Now we’re three quarters of the way through the year there’s still no vaccine in sight and although the human race is grappling to bring the virus under control, it’s clearly our species that’s having to adapt to life under the tyranny of the virus, not the other way round.
As the year has progressed it’s become obvious that permanent lockdown isn’t possible if we’re to avoid global economic collapse. We now have to get used to living with the spectre of Covid hanging over us.
For some sectors that’s easier than others and there’s no doubt that some industries have been walloped much harder than others. We may well see certain industries that relied on the proximity of humans sink without trace as social distancing makes then untenable.
For some sectors, there’s no possibility of grinding to a halt because of the millions of users relying on the services they provide as a matter of life or death. They’ve had to totally re-think their operations on the hop and just keep going.
Freight companies, which bear the heavy responsibility of making sure food, medicine and other supplies essential to the continuation of life, fall into that category.
Condor Ferries had to stop carrying human passengers but there was simply no way it could stop bringing those essential supplies to the Channel Islands. It just had to adapt to the new normal and do it pronto.
Elwyn Dop is Condor Ferries Operations Director and has been at the sharp end throughout the crisis. He describes what it was like.
“The burden of responsibility for ensuring a population is fed and medically supplied is huge and we take great care in maintaining these vital services in the face of a situation the world has never experienced in peacetime,” he says.
“Due to border closures, our passenger business ceased operations and with the exception of some repatriation sailings, remained the case for some four months.”
It’s meant re-designing the way operations are carried out from grass roots upwards.
“We made sure during the period that Islanders received food and medicines as they would normally. We went to extreme lengths to maintain sanitation – no part of the company physically visited the freight vessels including our port staff; we communicated over radio, phone or video conferencing only.
“We also shipped over the new field hospital that was assembled in Jersey, along with specialised medical equipment and expert engineers for Guernsey, so I hope our staff can in some way take away a sense of pride in our contribution.”
But how has the company coped with such a dramatic, almost overnight change to the way it does business?
Not only has it done so with aplomb, it’s been awarded with accreditation from DNV GL, a leading global quality assurance organisation which has recognised the company’s efforts to keep calm and carry on.
Elwyn says it was simply a matter of looking at the situation that presented itself and getting on with it.
“Each process and component of our operation is either audited or inspected as part of our safety management system; we saw operating in Covid as no different. The guidelines laid down by Interferry – the ferry sector industry’s international body – created a framework which we implemented and checked ourselves. The implementation of our processes was then cross checked and the accreditation awarded by DNV GL.
Achieving this involved monitoring the guidance and regulations issued by the countries Condor works in and using the Interferry Framework to create a set of operating manuals for ship and shore operations.
“Crew and staff checked these and ensured they fitted with the physical aspects of our operation. ‘Dry runs’ of the processes were carried out before DNV GL audited the four vessels and five ports to ensure that the correct processes were in place and we were doing what we were saying.”
He makes it all sound so straightforward, but remember – ships are not endlessly roomy places. Crew work cheek by jowl with one another on board and when they’re shifting containers on and off decks. An outbreak of Covid on a vessel would spread devastatingly fast without stringent preventative measures in place right from the start. How did they make it work?
“Ferry companies, along with other transport operators, prepare for crisis so we are always ready. The difference here was the crisis seemingly had no end. However, our first priority with any exercise carried out is the safety of people – in this case ensuring the health of our crews, staff and passengers.”
Elwyn says coping with a variety of situations is something ferry companies are accustomed to, so they have adapted to the new way of living alongside Covid-19.
“We all have to deal with a new reality; everyone has a personal responsibility to take more care of their own health for their sake and others – similar in the way we have improved the way we look after our own safety.
“People will want to travel, explore and visit friends and family. Condor provides a ferry service which lends itself well to providing passengers with a safe space in which to travel and will continue to do so. But, yes life will be different.”
It’s changed every aspect of how they go about their operations.
“The crew and staff have done an amazing job to adapt their normal work routines to a very different environment. Every time I board our ships the cleaning is very intense. Crew and staff wear face coverings and medical grade PPE at times – as I am sure you know this is a very different experience if you do not normally wear one.”
The whole operation has been reviewed so passengers see new guidance available – floor markers to direct them, protective screens, cashless only payments, even more space to move around than normal and less contact.
“This is not just new for passengers this is new for us as well – particularly those crew members who normally interact with passengers now find themselves with physical barriers between them and are having to minimise the contact they are used to.”
It’s required a sea change in the way they think, but Elwyn says the teams at Condor have been fantastic.
“I am lucky to have great people around me who know our business and recognise the needs of the Islands so it was about giving them as much support as possible to bring out what they knew and make it happen.
“Some staff struggled and others relished the isolation so it was important to provide a tailored approach to different individuals. I am certain I could have handled some things differently so once we have the opportunity, I will encourage my team to feedback on how I could have done better – I always want to be improving my approach to situations.”