CDC Extends No Sail Order by One Month for US Cruises

CDC extends no sail order for US cruises
PortMiami prior to the pandemic was the center of the cruise industry (file photo)

Published Oct 1, 2020 9:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a late-night announcement extended its no sail order for the US cruise industry until the end of October 2020. While the decision did not come as a surprise, there are reports that it maybe have been politically influenced.

The CDC in announcing its decision to extend the no sail order cited the ongoing outbreaks of the virus around the United States as well as continuing to cite the cruise industry’s performance starting with the outbreak of the virus. The CDC also cited the examples of Hurtigruten, Sea Dream Yacht Club, and UnCruises which each had reports of the virus during the summer. While recognizing that Sea Dream said the former passenger later tested negative, the CDC says the incident still required contact tracing and also notes the low statistical occurrence of false-positive tests.

The CDC also commented on the challenges of restaffing the ships. Specifically, they cite the positive COVID-19 tests that AIDA Cruises experienced after beginning crew to its ships in Germany to prepare for the restart. They point out the crew had negative tests before leaving home, but positive when they reached Germany and that required isolation.

The CDC recognizes the efforts by the cruise lines to develop protocols and also says that of the cruise ships it inspected during the summer they were found to be adhering to the requirements. They do not acknowledge the restart efforts of cruise lines including TUI, MSC Cruises, Costa or Dream Cruises, and in reference to the health protocols say it is “too early to assess if these initiatives will produce a viable set of policies and practices.”

Finally, saying that more time is required the CDC says that it received almost 13,000 comments in response to its request for information released in the Federal Register. They say due to the high level of interest it is important to review the comments to inform future policy. 

As a result of these factors, the no sail order was extended till October 31, 2020, for all ships with a capacity of at least 250 passengers operating in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction. As with past orders, if the crisis ends the order can be suspended or it can be revised by the CDC director.

While the order was extended for one month, and that coincides with the date the industry set for its voluntary pause, there are reports the CDC wanted to extend the order till February 2021. Media reports are saying that the CDC director was overruled at a White House coronavirus task force meeting this week. The rejection of the C.D.C.’s original plan was first reported by Axios and later in The New York Times and other outlets. 

The reports are pointing to the importance of the cruise industry in Florida and the political importance of Florida in the upcoming presidential elections. Before the task force meeting, the Florida cruise industry also staged a visible demonstration calling for the end of the no sail order. Many of Florida’s ports have also been vocal in support of the cruise industry while asking for government aid due to the lack of cruise related revenues. Florida’s senators also recently proposed legislation designed to speed the restart of cruising from the US.

The cruise industry previously had announced it was suspending US operations till November 1, while some firms have voluntarily extended their pauses till 2021. Today, Carnival Cruise Line became the first of the major operators to announce further cancellations of all cruises except those operating from Port Canaveral and Miami. Those two ports are seen as the basis for the company’s cruising restart.