The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has rejected a request by the cruise industry to immediately lift a no-sail order that would have allowed ships to resume business in U.S. waters by July, months ahead of a previously announced November return date.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to keep ships docked despite the fact that other companies around the world have resumed sailings with extensive health safety measures in place.
The Cruise Lines International Association had urged the CDC to lift the order, issued in October, and allow operations to resume from U.S. ports beginning in early July, calling the government order outdated and unfair.
But on March 24, the Atlanta-based agency issued several statements to trade industry agencies, making clear that the shutdown would remain in effect until at least Nov. 1.
“Returning to passenger cruising is a phased approach to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19,” said Caitlin Shockey, spokesperson for the CDC, according to reports. “Details for the next phase of the CSO are currently under interagency review.”
The cruise lines have said they were prepared for the CDC to implement further health modifications in the meantime but now accuse the agency of dragging its feet, adding that the early-July timeframe they asked for was in line with President Joe Biden’s forecast for when the United States will be “closer to normal.”
“The lack of any action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world,” the cruise line association said in a statement March 24.
“Cruise lines should be treated the same as other travel, tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors,” said Kelly Craighead, CLIA’s president and CEO.
The CDC’s “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order” was meant to help the cruise industry implement safety measures that would allow operations to resume. But cruise liners say the health agency hasn’t issued additional guidance as it promised it would.
“Over the past eight months, 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,” Craighead said. “These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19. Additional sailings are planned in the Mediterranean and Caribbean later this spring and summer.”
All three major cruise lines that operate in the U.S. — Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian — have continued to extend the shutdown month-to-month while the CDC keeps a no-sail order in place within U.S. waters.
Each company had hoped for a return to the seas as soon as this month, but they were forced to delay as the coronavirus pandemic began surging again around the world late last year.
In order for cruises to ultimately return to the sea, the CDC is requiring the companies to come up with their own plans to deal with COVID-19 with minimal help from federal, state and local governments.
The plans must be detailed and specific, and will then be subject to review and approval by the CDC and the U.S. Coast Guard.