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CDC Issues Framework for Resuming Cruise Ship Passenger Operations

framework for resuming US cruises
Cruise ships in PortMiami prior to the seven-month no sail order

By The Maritime Executive 10-30-2020 03:50:58

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is replacing the seven-month-long “No Sail Order” for cruise ships with more than 250 passengers with a newly issued Framework for Conditional Sailing Order that introduces a phased approach for the resumption of passenger cruises in US waters. The new order effective today, October 30. establishes a framework of actionable items for the cruise line industry to follow toward resuming passenger operations, which would start with restrictions including on the length of the cruise.

The new order requires a phased approach to restarting passenger operations and will require an unspecified amount of time before the first cruises will sail. The CDC cites the continued risks from the virus, its belief regarding the dangers of the transmission of the virus aboard cruise ships, and the “need for additional time for the cruise industry to test the effectiveness of measures to control potential COVID-19 transmission on board cruise ships with passengers without burdening public health.”

“This framework provides a pathway to resume safe and responsible sailing. It will mitigate the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks on ships and prevent passengers and crew from seeding outbreaks at ports and in the communities where they live,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D, in the agency’s prepared statement. “CDC and the cruise industry have a shared goal to protect crew, passengers, and communities and will continue to work together to ensure that all necessary public health procedures are in place before cruise ships begin sailing with passengers.”

During the initial phases of the new order, the cruise ship lines must demonstrate adherence to testing, quarantine, and isolation, and social distancing requirements to protect crew members while they build the laboratory capacity needed to test crew and future passengers. The cruise lines need to submit plans to the CDC and if their ships have been away from US waters resubmit the CDC’s Enhanced Data Collection paperwork. Further, if crew has come aboard from other ships they must demonstrate the crew came from a COVID-19 free environment or if they came from shore have been tested for the virus. The cruise lines also need to make arrangements with local health authorities and the ports. Once the ships have completed these steps, they can receive COVID-19 conditional sailing certificates.

Subsequent phases required before commercial operations can resume include simulated voyages with volunteers playing the role of passengers to test cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk. The ships will operate mock sailings that include embarkation, disembarkation, COVID-19 tests, onboard operations, including food and entertainment, to show social distancing and hygiene protocols are being met. The ships will also have to make a call at their private islands to demonstrate those procedures. Quarantine and mitigation practices and protocols will also be tested. The cruise lines will submit documentation for review to the CDC and certified statements as the process continues. 

After the ships have completed all the preparatory steps, the CDC has additional restrictions and requirements as cruising resumes. Among them, they are limiting cruises to 7-days or less, requiring COVID-19 testing before boarding and disembarkation for all passengers and crew, and maintaining social distancing, hand hygiene, and face covering restrictions as well as notifying passengers of any CDC warnings or advisories. The CDC also retains the right to end a cruise immediately if it determines a threshold of COVID-19 is detected aboard the ship.

The CDC reports that it considered a range of alternatives before issuing this new order. It considered unrestricted cruise operations without public health oversight but said it believes the risks required the oversight. They also considered extending the no sail order, but said the new order provides a more tailored approach to the industry.

The cruise line trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) responded to the CDC’s announcement. “We look forward to reviewing the new order and are optimistic that it is an important step toward returning our ships to service from US ports,” said Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of CLIA in a prepared statement. CLIA reiterated the industry’s commitments saying it is prepared to implement multiple layers of protocols informed by the latest scientific and medical knowledge.

The news of the CSC's efforts came, however, as Canada announced it would continue to bar large cruise ships for its waters till at least the end of February 2021. In Europe, new lockdowns and restrictions related to the resurgence of the virus prompted cruise lines, including AIDA and the German river cruise ships, to again suspend operations. So far, three cruise lines Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, and TUI Cruises have said they plan to continue their European cruises.

The CDC's complete 40-page order was posted online for downloading