Cruise Lines Update Ventilation Systems

Cruise lines are examining harder-to-see improvements, thinking beyond their mandatory face masks and limited sailing capacity. The spotlight has turned to upgrading ships, with the focus on ventilation systems.

Cruise Critic was one of the first to report the industry’s desire to upgrade their airflow systems, a move driven by scientific research, which is now focusing more on the aerosol spread of COVID-19, as opposed to surfaces.

While some cruise lines have already committed to a 100% fresh air mix aboard their vessels going forward, many are still finalizing their health and safety protocols. Only a handful of lines released detailed preliminary health and safety protocols, but one constant across all plans was an air circulation component.

Norwegian Cruise Line recently stated new health and safety protocols that included the installation of new medical-grade H13 High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters across its fleet. These filters are estimated to remove 99.95% of all airborne pathogens that are 0.1 microns or larger. The COVID-19 pathogen is 25% larger than this standard, coming in at 0.125 microns.

Windstar Cruises is focused on performing a retrofit its entire six-ship fleet with HEPA filters, and additional germicidal irradiation known as UV-C designed to kill bacteria and viruses, including coronaviruses before they can enter the air mix aboard its ships. That solution is recognized by the European Union, which recently published its Healthy Gateways guidelines for cruises to resume within European waters. This process destroys bacteria and viruses that are not trapped in the HEPA filter before they can enter the air mix on board the ship –a technology that could be combined with robotic technology on larger ships.

Windstar’s HVAC strategy also includes an EvaClean electrostatic sprayer with PurTab Disinfectant. The EvaClean electrostatic sprayer uses technology that adds a magnetic charge to the sanitizer solution itself. As the sanitizer is sprayed, the solution attaches itself to surfaces and wraps fully around objects and surfaces to provide entire coverage. PurTab is a chlorine-based, hospital-grade sanitizer proven to kill a wide array of microorganisms, including coronavirus and Norovirus.

To date, vessels have trusted a “fresh air mix” for the ventilation of public spaces and staterooms onboard. This system mixes fresh air with recirculated air to cut down on costs and energy expended to keep the ship temperate. As early as February, researchers at Purdue University were warning that this mix could contribute to the spread of COVID-19 aboard cruise ships and other buildings shoreside using similar heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. It is believed cruise ships could minimize the risk of transmission by simply using exclusively outside air and not recirculating it within the system — a technique known as 100% fresh air mix.

100% fresh air mix is exactly that – a ship with air units that pull in outside air through the ship’s exterior louvers and vents, not relying on recirculation before exchanging it. Of course, everything has a plus and a negative impact. The 100% mix places extra demands on the blowers, chillers, air conditioning units, and other equipment used for air exchange. All of these systems carry massive electrical power requirements, which in turn puts increased demands on the ship’s hotel and technical systems, including the vessel’s generators.

With cruise ships remaining docked throughout the summer, it seems cruise lines will have time to implement changes before their next round of sailing dates. But in the meantime, you may have questions. AAA Travel is here to help. To speak to a AAA Travel Agent, please call 1-800-222-7448.