As the pandemic saga continues to unfold, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been under gathering pressure to end its ban on cruising, which has had a devastating economic impact, particularly on Alaska and Florida.
Back in March, the CDC appeared to be in no hurry to respond to the Cruise Line International Association’s call for it to lift the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), issued last October, and allow for planning of a phased resumption of cruise operations from U.S. ports by the beginning of July.
CLIA has said that the early-July time frame is in line with President Biden’s forecast for when the United States will be “closer to normal.”
As CLIA’s President and CEO Kelly Craighead pointed out at the time, a highly-controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific—with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets.
“These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19,” said Craighead. “Additional sailings are planned in the Mediterranean and Caribbean later this spring and summer.”
According to CLIA, the very small fraction of reported COVID cases (fewer than 50 based on public reports) is dramatically lower than the rate on land or in any other transportation mode.
While the CDC continues to monitor the pandemic and cruising operations remain frozen in time here in the U.S., Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which operates the Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands, said that it would provide $10 million in cash support to six Alaska port communities severely impacted by the ongoing U.S. suspension of cruise voyages.
In Alaska, approximately 60% of all tourism is generated through the cruise ship industry, which has been halted for more than a year, continuing to significantly impact families and small businesses reliant on cruise tourism. Prior to the pandemic, the Cruise Lines International Association estimated that nearly 1.4 million passengers visited Alaska on 577 voyages in 2019.
Furthermore, Florida’s two U.S. senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, along with Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, introduced the Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements (CRUISE) Act last month. The legislation would revoke the CDC’s current No Sail Order on cruises and require the CDC to provide COVID-19 mitigation guidance for cruise lines to resume safe domestic operations.
It seems as though the CDC is finally hearing the industry out and has caved, somewhat, to the mounting pressure to allow cruising to resume.
Only a few weeks ago, USA Today reported that the CDC sent a letter to cruise lines indicating that cruises from U.S. ports could resume as early as mid-July.
The USA Today report cites CDC spokesperson Caitlin Shockey as saying that cruise lines could begin passenger voyages then depending on their pace and compliance with the CDC’s CSO. Reportedly that guidance has been modified in a number of ways, including allowing ships to bypass the required simulated test voyages carrying volunteers and jump to sailings with paying passengers if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated.
As we’ve already reported, the first public cruise industry response to the letter came from Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain in an earnings call with financial analysts this morning.
“Last night, the CDC issued multiple very constructive clarifications and amplifications of its conditional sail order,” Fain said. “They’ve addressed many of the items that concerned us in the order, in a manner that takes into account the recent advances in vaccines and medical science. We believe that this communication really helps us to see a clear and achievable pathway forward to a safe and healthy cruising in the near future.”