The IAFOR Symposium on Preventing and Overcoming Infectious Disease Outbreaks on Cruise Ships: International Challenges & Responses was an event organised by The International Academic Forum (IAFOR) with the support of the Government of Japan through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on March 10-11, 2021. It was a hybrid (onsite and online) event held at the Toshi Center Hotel, Tokyo, and presented the findings of an international and interdisciplinary research project on infectious diseases on cruise ships commissioned by MOFA, and coordinated through IAFOR and the IAFOR Research Centre at the Osaka School of International Public Policy (OSIPP) at Osaka University. It was simultaneously interpreted in English/Japanese.
The project was commissioned in the wake of the impact of COVID-19 on cruise ships throughout the world, and most notably the Diamond Princess, which highlighted many international legal, diplomatic and public health issues. The research brought together Japanese and international experts working in the fields of international and maritime law, international relations, public health and the built environment, and involved the cooperation of University College London, the East-West Center (Washington D.C.), Clingendael - the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, and the National University of Singapore.
Day 1: Overview
The international symposium began with a welcome address by Dr Joseph Haldane, Chairman and CEO of IAFOR, who thanked both the Japanese Experts Committee, and the many international collaborators who had contributed to the project, underlining the international and interdisciplinary nature of the study, and how essential these different perspectives were in addressing a topic of such importance. His Excellency Ambassador Masahiro Takasugi, Deputy Director-General for Global Issues, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, then added his words of welcome, highlighting the importance of this study and situated it in a global and historical context. Dr Shu Uchida, of Osaka University, then introduced His Excellency Toshiya Hoshino, Former Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations, Professor at the Osaka School of International Public Policy (OSIPP), and Director of the OSIPP-IAFOR Research Centre, who moderated the sessions with the Japanese experts. The symposium which would have been a one-day event was spread over two days (afternoon of the 10th and morning of the 11th) to accommodate the time zones of the participants from Europe and the United States. Notable among the online audience of around 150 were the presence of many Japanese local port authorities, as well as experts from think tanks and research institutions in Japan as well as Southeast Asia.
Day 1: Session 1
Japanese Experts Committee Report
The main session started with a report by the Japanese Experts Committee looking at cases of outbreaks of the coronavirus on cruise ships, and most particularly on the outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The session's main purpose was to look back, given all we now know about the global pandemic, discuss the response taken at that time, and look in detail at what transpired, and how that differed from the information obtained through negative domestic and international media reports. Japan received a lot of criticism for its handling of the incident at the time, and recognised that some errors were made in its handling and communication of the incident with stakeholders. Professor Hoshino underlined that Japan is making the utmost efforts, as a coastal country, to share lessons learned with the world. These include aspects of international and domestic laws and rules regarding passenger ships sailing internationally, both within the ship itself, and relations between countries related to the ship and its current location, registration and ownership.
Experts made comments from their respective professional standpoints, including recommendations on the prevention and countermeasures for infectious diseases in Japan, the need for international cooperation, and the role of international organisations. These included presentations by the committee chair, Emeritus Professor Yoshiho Ikeda of Osaka Prefecture University, who spoke on ship architecture and engineering. Then Professor Atsuko Kanehara of Sophia University & President of the Japanese Society of International Law, gave international legal perspectives, as did fellow law Professor, Mariko Kawano of Waseda University. Medical Doctor and Professor of Public Health, Koji Wada of the International University of Health and Welfare, presented ideas from a public health and policy perspective. Atsushi Sunami, President of the Ocean Policy Research of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (OPRI-SPF) and Executive Director of SPF, and Dr Kazuhiro Tateda, Professor at Toho University and President of the Japan Infectious Diseases Association, attended online. The discussion looked at the various measures to prevent the recurrence of such cases as the Diamond Princess, and to ensure effective domestic and international responses in the event of future cases.
Day 1: Session 2
International Roundtable – Views from Asian and European Experts
Following the report from the Japanese experts, experts from Asia and Europe responded and took part in an international roundtable, moderated by the Project Director of Research, Professor Haruko Satoh of Osaka University. Among the experts were Dr Maaike Okano-Heijmans, Senior Research Fellow at Clingendael – The Netherlands Institute of International Relations and Dr Evangelia Chrysikou from the Bartlett Real Estate Institute, University College London, who together coordinated and carried out the research on the European policies and responses. Also presenting were Sibrand Hassing, Director, Fleet Operations Europe, for the Holland America Group/SAMS, who oversaw the management of the Holland America Line's global fleet operations during the pandemic, and Peter Post, Transport Advisor to the Department of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands who handled the diplomatic and consular matters involved in securing the safe repatriation of passengers and crew. Emeritus Professor Robert Beckman of the Centre of International Law, National University of Singapore and Dr Remco van de Pas of Maastricht University joined the lively discussions that followed.
Day 2: Session 1
International Experts Session and Roundtable with US Collaborators
Dr Joseph Haldane, Chairman of The International Academic Forum, Japan, introduced the Project Director of Research, Professor Haruko Satoh of Osaka University, who moderated the International Experts Session and International Roundtable with collaborators from the United States. Peter Valente and Matthew Sullivan of the East-West Center in Washington D.C., presented their views based on their study of the cases of the Diamond Princess and the Westerdam from the US policy perspective. This session that took place in the morning was joined by a few Europeans who had stayed up to participate, including Professor Alexis Papathanassis of Bremerhaven University of Applied Sciences and Feline Schutjes from Clingendael. This was the first time that the experts from Europe and the United States were able to join the Japanese experts together in discussions.
Day 2: Session 2
The Japanese Experts Committee then responded to the roundtable in a further session of experts, moderated by His Excellency, Ambassador Professor Toshiya Hoshino. Emeritus Professor Yoshiho Ikeda, of Osaka Prefecture University then delivered the closing remarks, thanking his colleagues and collaborators for their work and looking forward to the final report.
Photography by Tia Haygood, Toptia Photography