The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued new guidance for the cruise ship industry, requiring daily reporting of COVID-19 cases on board, routine testing for crew members, and decided arrangements with port authorities for coordinated safe quarantines in the case of an outbreak.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, which already plans mandatory vaccination for all guests and crew members, found the new guidelines disappointing. Although the company has announced that it will comply with the CDC order, CEO Frank Del Rio told the Washington Post “We thought it was a step backward, quite frankly.”
”By requiring full and complete vaccinations of guests and crew, we believe our extensive health and safety standards share in the spirit and exceed the intent of the CDC’s existing Conditional Sailing Order (“CSO”) to advance public health goals and to protect guests, crew and the communities we visit. Therefore, we respectfully request the CDC lift the CSO for all NCLH cruise vessels departing from U.S. ports effective July 4, 2021,” Del Rio said in a statement.
According to Norwegian Cruise, their ships will have an occupancy of 60 percent starting July 4. Every 30 days, the capacity will be increased by 20 percent. Royal Caribbean, which is set to resume cruise trips in the Caribbean starting June, also noted that it is “reviewing and studying” the new guidance.
The company is confident that it can resume operations in the United States responsibly. In addition to advising vaccinations, cruise operators have to conduct routine COVID-19 testing and report possible infections every day. The companies are also required to run practice cruises to earn a ‘Conditional Sailing Certificate’ before they can start inviting paying customers.
Industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has called the new CDC guidance “burdensome.” The organization represents almost 95 percent of global ocean-going cruise capacity and asked that the CDC lift the framework for Conditional Sailing Order. It accused the new rules of reflecting a ‘zero-risk objective’ rather than using a mitigation approach towards CCP Virus, which the organization says is the basis for every other sector in American society. CLIA also called out the irony of Americans being able to fly to other destinations to take a cruise, while being unable to board a ship in the U.S. itself.
“The effect of these new mandates is that nearly half a million Americans– from longshoremen and ground transportation operators to hotel, restaurant, and retail workers, travel agents, and tens of thousands of businesses that service cruise ships, are continuing to financially suffer with no reasonable timeline provided for the safe return of cruising. Moreover, the instructions are at odds with the approach the CDC and governments in other parts of the world apply to all other travel and tourism segments in mitigating the risk of COVID-19,” CLIA said in a statement.
While the pandemic remains a cause for concern among potential passengers, with 45 to 47 percent of 600 people surveyed expressing safety concerns, nearly 400,000 passengers have already sailed from Europe and parts of Asia since last summer. Strict protocols have kept the incident rates far lower than on land, and the CLIA has urged the Biden Administration to consider the ample evidence that supports lifting the CSO in April, enabling a controlled return to service to be planned accordingly for this summer.