Coronavirus: Key questions about our health and safety protocols in the Galapagos Islands
This page was last updated on March 14th, 2020
As we globally face the spread of COVID-19, there have been many concerns regarding health and safety while traveling, especially when it comes to cruises.
What is Metropolitan Touring doing to keep you safe?
Your health and safety are our top priority; this is reflected in everything we do (and are prepared to do) along your journey. Below, you’ll find answers that may help you ease your mind when it comes to traveling to the Galapagos Islands.
What are Ecuador’s travel protocols to prevent the spread of Coronavirus?
Following the World Health Organization’s announcement that the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak now represents a pandemic, the Ecuadorian government declared a sanitary emergency on March 11th.
Among many other measures, it declared today that all foreign nationals will be denied entry into the country from midnight on Sunday, March 15th and all Ecuadorian nationals or residents from Monday, March 16th.
What are our procedures to minimize the risk of Coronavirus infection aboard our ships?
According to the company’s Safety Management Manual, the procedure is as follows:
- The crew must be vigilant at all times. If anyone onboard displays suspicious symptoms, the crew must notify the Medical Officer.
- The Medical Officer determines the health status of a patient and decides if they coincide with those of COVID-19.
- The Medical Officer informs the Captain, who communicates with the DPA and relevant authorities immediately.
- The suspected case will be immediately instructed to wear a medical mask, follow cough etiquette, and practice hand hygiene.
- The patient is isolated in their cabin with precautionary measures.
- Infection control measures will be applied, according to World Health Organization guidelines.
- The disembarkation and transfer of the suspected case to an onshore healthcare facility for further assessment and laboratory testing should be arranged as soon as possible.
- The Captain would call and notify 911, who will then coordinate the ambulance for immediate transfer to the Oskar Jandl Hospital (San Cristobal Island), the location designated for this purpose by the Ministry of Public Health. The public entity will be responsible for carrying out the patient’s transfer.
What are our procedures in case of an emergency?
Our registered company, ETICA, has a Safety Management System in place which is audited and complies with the provisions of the ISM Code (an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and for pollution prevention), which is part of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)
- Our Safety Management System ensures that we can act effectively in relation to hazards, accidents, and emergency situations that could affect our vessels.
- The company has identified potential emergency shipboard situations — including fires, collision, running aground, contamination, flood, technical fault, abandonment, man overboard, etc. — and has established procedures to respond to them effectively and immediately.
In the case of a health emergency involving a guest onboard, the MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) procedure in place is as follows:
- It is the responsibility of the Captain of the vessel to inform the Designated Person Ashore (DPA) of the need to evacuate a guest when his or her state of health so warrants.
- The Medical Officer onboard will determine if the evacuation to be performed is of an “important” or “urgent” nature.
What does this mean?
“Important”: when the condition of the guest allows him or her to wait for the vessel to anchor at a port, with a change of itinerary if the situation warrants it. Subsequently, an ambulance will be requested at the port of arrival by calling 911, so that the guest can be cared for in the health centers on land.
“Urgent”: when the condition of the guest warrants immediate evacuation. In this case, the DPA will determine the best evacuation option available: either by helicopter or by speedboat. According to the care required by the guest, the health authorities will determine whether or not the patient needs to be transferred to mainland Ecuador (either the cities of Quito or Guayaquil). To carry out the evacuation by air, the Captain must proceed according to the “Air MEDEVAC” procedure within the company’s Safety Management Manual.
How can family members contact you in an emergency? Are there options such as cell or satellite phone coverage and/or an e-mail address for emergencies?
You will always be able to get in touch with your Destination Expert, who will always be up to date on your itinerary and location. You can share their contact details with your friends and family. Once your journey has started, we will share our Welcome Kit information with you, which includes our Operations Department phone numbers.
What types of medical services can your ship provide, such as basic or urgent care, hospitalization, dialysis, etc.?
Our three vessels are among the few in the Galapagos Islands with medical officers onboard throughout all cruises.
- Our Medical Officers are specially trained in travel and nautical medicine, certified by the Ministry of Public Health, the National Merchant Marine, and the Maritime Authority of Ecuador.
- They can offer medical care in situations of respiratory, cardiac, gastrointestinal, and traumatological natures, among others.
- The medical officers’ infirmaries are stocked with pain relievers, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories. Their equipment includes items such as ophthalmoscope, defibrillator, laryngoscope, AMBU (Airway Mask Bag Unit), infrared thermometer, medicinal oxygen, plaster in case of fractures or for immobilizations, boots for dislocations, tensiometer (sphygmomanometer), and parenteral serums.
Additionally, our naturalist guides carry first-aid kits with basic first aid equipment during all excursions and have been trained in first-aid by relevant organizations.
In the case of requiring further medical treatment, the ship will contact Emergency Services and request assistance.
Are there any prohibited items I should be aware of?
Prohibited items for the Galapagos Islands:
The Ecuadorian Animal and Plant Health Service and the Quarantine and Inspection System of Galápagos (SICGAL) have developed a program to prevent exotic species from arriving in the islands. To minimize the entry of such species, you will be given a declaration form to fill out on your flight to the islands. It’s best not to take any fresh fruit in your luggage. View the full list of items (in Spanish) here.
Metropolitan Touring’s general list of Onboard Prohibited Items:
- Firearms and ammunition, including realistic replicas.
- Sharp objects, including all knives and scissors. (Note: scissors with blade length less than 4 inches are allowed.)
- Illegal drugs and substances
- Candles, incense, coffee makers, clothes irons, travel steamers & hot plates. (items that may create a fire hazard)
- Martial arts, self-defense, and sports gear, including handcuffs, pepper spray, nightsticks.
- Flammable liquids and explosives, including lighter fluid and fireworks.
- HAM radios
- Baby monitors
- Electrical extension cords
- Dangerous chemicals, including bleach and paint.
What are Galapagos Islands’ key differentiators?
Massive cruise ships that can carry up to 6,000 passengers can’t sail in Galapagos. The largest expedition vessel in Galapagos can only carry 100 passengers.
Mass tourism doesn’t exist in the Galapagos Islands. The total number of tourists entering the Galapagos during all of 2019 was 271,238 (source). That’s, on average, 743 per day. Plus, they arrive at two different domestic airports.
Unlike large cruise ships sail between one port in one country to another port in another, and shore visits take place in populated areas. Galapagos expedition vessels follow fixed itineraries within the archipelago and, 90% of the time, visit completely uninhabited islands.
Regulated arrival and departure:
There are no international to/from the Galapagos. Travelers are first screened on arrival in Ecuador’s cities of Quito and Guayaquil, and then screened again before boarding flights to the islands’ two domestic airports.
Local crew members:
Staff who work on Galapagos expedition vessels are strictly controlled by the Galapagos Special Law (1998) and other legislation, which limits crew members to either Galapagos residents or staff with special work permits.
Galapagos National Park Controls:
The Galapagos Islands are among the most highly-controlled ecosystems in the world. These controls, established in 1990, help authorities know exactly what and who is entering the Galapagos at any time to preserve its fragile ecosystem.