Cruise Lines Establish Expert Panels for Protocols to Resume Cruising

Cruise liens are bringing in experts is health and science to develop protocols for return to service
Cruise ships in PortMiami prior to the suspension of service - courtesy PortMiami

Published Jul 6, 2020 7:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

The cruise industry is announcing efforts to enlist the help of third-party experts in fields including health and safety as it works to formulate its plan to resume operations. In two separate nearly simultaneous announcements, three of the largest cruise lines announced the establishment of panels to oversee the development of new protocols that would be used in response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other regulators as well as to reassure the traveling public. 

Highlighting the unique nature of these efforts, competitors Royal Caribbean Group, which owns brands including Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, owners of Norwegian Cruise Line and others lines, are collaborating to launch a group of expertise they are calling the “Healthy Sail Panel.” Their panel is being co-chaired by former Secretary of the U.S. Department Health and Human Services (HHS) and former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt along with former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Dr. Scott Gottlieb. The panel's seven other members are globally recognized experts from various disciplines, including public health, infectious disease, and biosecurity. Each cruise company is represented on the panel by its head of marine operations. 

"In convening the Healthy Sail Panel, we sought the participation of a diverse group of leading experts in areas of science and public health that are directly relevant to the considerations listed by the No Sail Order," said Governor Leavitt. "We view our work as a profoundly important public health effort. The health and safety of passengers, crew, and the communities that cruise ships visit will be the principal focus of this project." 

According to the two companies, the panel has been working for nearly a month and will offer its initial recommendations by the end of August. The panel was initiated the companies said to assure the plans they will submit to the CDC and other regulators apply the best available public health, science, and engineering insights. The work of the panel will also be shared with the entire industry and the companies also said that any company or industry that would benefit from the group’s scientific and medical insights could freely adopt it. 

Dr. Gottlieb said, "We know that the public health issues that must be addressed are complex, and in some areas, tackling them will require novel approaches. Our goal in assembling this team of leading experts was to develop best practices that can improve safety and provide a roadmap for reducing the risks of COVID-19." 

MSC Cruises 

In a separate announcement, MSC Cruises said that it has also set up a cross-functional task force comprised of in-house experts in the areas of medical services, public health and sanitation, hotel services, HVAC and other shipboard engineering systems information technology and logistics. The internal team is being assisted by Aspen Medical and a newly announced panel of external medical experts. 

“The objective of our Blue Ribbon COVID-19 Expert Group in the fields of Medicine, Public Health, and/or related scientific disciplines is to create a group of highly qualified and internationally respected experts to inform and review our initiatives as they relate to COVID-19, said Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises. He said the panel would help ensure that the actions taken are appropriate, effective, and informed by the best available science and health practices. “For this reason, this Expert Group will have the competency to review policy initiatives, technical innovations, or operational measures related to COVID-19. It will remain in place long beyond our return to operations to ensure we benefit from their know-how and input even as the situation continues to evolve and more data become available.” 

MSC Cruises said its new operating protocol would be announced shortly and was being designed to meet and exceed guidelines provided by key international and regional regulatory and technical bodies, as well as regulations set forth by many of the governments in the countries in which MSC Cruises ships operate.