COVID-19: FMC to investigate how cruise industry can resume operations

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Feral Maritime Commissioner Louis E. Sola

Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis E. Sola will lead a fact finding investigation and work with key industry stakeholders to identify commercial measures passenger cruise lines can adopt to mitigate COVID-19 related impacts to this sector of the maritime industry.

The Federal Maritime Commission designated Commissioner Sola to serve as the Fact Finding Officer for Fact Finding 30, “COVID-19 Impact on Cruise Industry” in an order issued April 30.

In the course of his investigation, Commissioner Sola will:

  • Engage cruise industry stakeholders to identify commercial solutions to COVID-19 related issues interfering with the operations of the industry.
  • Interact with any or all maritime related COVID-19 task forces in order to gather information and data related to the impact of COVID-19 on the cruise industry.
  • Establish at least one team of leaders from the cruise industry, as well as other stakeholders, to develop commercial solutions to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commissioner has full authority under 46 C.F.R. §§ 502.281-291 to perform his investigative duties, including the ability to issue subpoenas, and take depositions, and hold hearings.

“Fact Finding 30 is an effort to determine the economic stability of the cruise lines. When we talk about the ‘cruise industry’ we tend to think of the ship and vessel operator, but there is an exhaustive list of American citizens and businesses who rely on the work they do for the cruise lines,” said Commissioner Sola. “The sooner cruise companies are able to resume operations and provide certainty to the public about the lines’ financial security, the sooner we can bring stability to enterprises and communities that rely on the cruise industry for their livelihoods. I am confident that the fact finding will identify useful commercial measures industry can take to achieve those goals.”

No single federal agency has exclusive or comprehensive authority over cruise lines. The Federal Maritime Commission’s jurisdiction over the cruise industry is found at 46 U.S.C. chap. 441, the most relevant provision of which is related to the financial responsibilities of cruise lines for non-performance of transportation. These provisions apply to companies operating vessels with 50 or more berths that embark passengers at locations in the United States.

“It has been determined that as the Commission has examined concerns related to the cargo side of the shipping industry, we should also examine the impact of this pandemic on passenger vessel operators,” said a statement released by Commissioner Sola. “Consequently, the Commission has issued Fact Finding 30 instructing me to initiate a fact-finding mission to identify commercial solutions to COVID-19-related issues that interfere with the operation of the cruise industry and to explore where and how this Commission might facilitate changes that will benefit both consumer and cruise line.

“The cruise industry plays a unique role in the American economy. The industry’s broad national, interdependent supply chain of U.S. companies encompasses ports, travel agents, airlines, hotels, retailers, and farmers. Collectively, its direct supply chain spends billions of dollars in the United States annually. The cruise industry is also an important contributor to the financial health of seaports across the country through the payment of port fees covering berthing, security, customs and immigration, harbor pilotage, and other port logistical services such as longshore labor.

“I shall be working with the various stakeholders to determine what, in addition to those issues addressed by my fellow Commissioners, should be examined to help ensure fairness and efficiency. I intend to examine issues such as canceled sailings and delayed debarkations to determine where and if this Commission can act to facilitate a fair and equitable position between the passenger and the cruise line.”

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