Luis Ajamil of Bermello Ajamil & Partners gave an approximately 45-minute presentation at the regular Ketchikan City Council meeting Thursday evening regarding “Port-of-Call Options” for the 2021 cruise ship season in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Ajamil began his presentation by asserting that Ketchikan had been “one of the most progressive cities” in preparing for the potential return of cruise ships to the port.
He then said that “today is not to tell you what to do; it’s to discuss the options that the city has, so that you and the community can decide what is the best course of action.”
He showed several slides to support his firm’s findings surrounding the resumption of the cruise industry worldwide.
He began by saying that at the beginning of the pandemic, the focus was on the protocols onboard the ships, but over time, it’s become obvious that the focus needs to be “about the germ.”
Ajamil showed a slide illustrating the “five areas of focus” that the cruise industry is studying: pre-embarkation, embarkation, onboard cruise, shoreside and disembarkation. The slide emphasized “The most complex part of the journey,” which was shoreside — or the port.
The complexities that the Port of Ketchikan would be dealing with, according to Ajamil’s information, raise many questions that would need to be answered.
A first challenge when a ship arrived in port would be to socially distance passengers from each other. That will cause problems, such as taking two to three times more time to disembark passengers, affecting their ability to participate in tours or to have the time to shop. Vehicles transporting tourists also would have to be at low capacity.
Another question that would need to be answered is if passengers are checked for health before disembarking, then what would the protocol be to handle a sick passenger? Would that person be returned to the ship, or transported to a health facility on shore, and what agreement would be set up with the cruise lines to pay for the transport of a sick passenger, if needed?
An approach to keeping communities and cruise passengers safe from viral transmission that has been used in other ports abroad, Ajamil said, has been to utilize a “bubble” in which passengers are kept to isolate them from the community they are visiting.
Amajil called the bubble, the “model that works.”
He explained, “how we create the bubble is going to be critical and how it affects the community is going to be critical.”
He showed several slides illustrating several bubble models, from the most extreme — the “cruise to nowhere,” (where) during which the ship does not disembark passengers into communities, instead bypassing towns to sightsee at glaciers, for instance.
Another model is the “port bubble,” where only the areas on the port docks are accessible to passengers, and approved business owners would have to set up kiosks inside the bubble. Other bubbles, going farther down the range from least contact with communities to the widest bubble, include the passenger bubble, in which tourists are bused to a specific location and back to the ship; an areawide bubble in which most of the main downtown tourist area is contained; to an “integrated model” that would be statewide, and mostly not viable, Amajil said.
Ajamil said that as Ketchikan decides what protocols and bubble models to adopt, considerations need to be explored, such as what standards to set, what protocols will be deemed acceptable, who will monitor the companies to assure standards are followed, and how.
Council Member Abby Bradberry asked Ajamil how the costs of all of those mitigating actions would be covered. He answered that he wasn’t sure, but that the city would need to negotiate with the cruise lines and possibly add surcharges to tours or to passenger fees.
Next in the meeting, Council Member Mark Flora presented information about the progress that the resource committee he is part of has made toward preparing for the 2021 cruise season.
He said four working groups have been created that will be working to make a community plan. They are: health, screening and exposure reduction; environment, port operations and control; response and contingency planning in the event of a COVID incident; and community destination practices and protocols.
He said that the “Covid Clean” program created by the local business The Safety Specialists had been forwarded to cruise lines to show the ways the city has worked to ensure local businesses were prepared to offer the safest tourist experience possible.
He also said that a plan to transport, quarantine and evacuate infected cruise ship passengers from the community will be communicated to cruise lines, as well as the community’s best “bubble” plan options that are deemed to work best for Ketchikan.
Ketchikan Emergency Operations Incident Commander Abner Hoage gave an update on the local COVID-19 infection status near the end of the first two hours of the meeting, saying that when the risk level was turned up to “high,” people responded well and the spike in cases fell.
The testing capacity locally is up to a potential of 450 tests every eight hours, Hoage said, with a 24- to 48-hour turnaround time.
Also during the meeting, the council unanimously approved a motion to renew a contract with Ray Matiashowski & Associates for a 12-month $48,000 lobbying services contract. Council members Judy Zenge, Janalee Gage and Riley Gass requested that Matiashowski bring information to them, either in a presentation or a letter, about how he will represent the city to the Legislature during the difficulties caused by the pandemic.
At 9 p.m., the council took a break in advance of an executive session to discuss the status of negotiations between the City of Ketchikan and PeaceHealth for a new Ketchikan Medical Center lease and operating agreement.
The last portion of Thursday’s meeting will be covered in a future edition of Ketchikan Daily News.