Norwegian Tells CDC Cruises Resuming July 4 with Vaccine Requirement

Norwegian plans to restart cruises
Norwegian Cruise Line writes CDC with plan to resume cruises on July 4 (file photo)

Published Apr 5, 2021 4:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

In the strongest move yet to restore North America cruise operations, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings sent a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlining its protocols to restore cruise operations on July 4, 2021. Saying that its efforts go beyond others in the travel industry and follow the CDC’s decision to permit travel for vaccinated individuals, Norwegian is requesting the CDC lift its Conditional Sail Order for its ships.

“The company’s plan is consistent with the CDC’s updated guidance that international travel is safe for fully vaccinated individuals and that COVID-19 vaccination efforts will be critical in the safe resumption of cruise ship travel,” said Norwegian in announcing its actions. “We believe that through a combination of 100 percent mandatory vaccinations for guests and crew and science-backed public health measures as developed by the Healthy Sail Panel .... we can create a safe, ‘bubble-like’ environment for guests and crew. We look forward to joining the rest of the travel, tourism, and hospitality sectors in participating in this next phase of our recovery.”

Norwegian becomes the first of the major North American cruise lines to openly challenge the CDC, citing the CDC’s policies. Last Friday, the CDC issued an update saying domestic travel was safe for fully vaccinated individuals who also followed public health guidelines including masks, avoiding crowds, and maintaining social distances. The CDC also provided some technical guidance for the cruise lines but did not provide specific timelines for resuming operations. Previously, the CDC said it expected to maintain its Conditional Sail Order which restricts cruises from U.S. ports, till the order’s October 31 expiration.

Norwegian in its public letter to the CDC outlined a series of actions the cruise lines plans to take as they resume sailing. It is requiring all guests embarking or disembarking from a U.S. port to provide proof of having been fully vaccinated. The company also said all crew on its vessels will be fully vaccinated before commencement of their duties onboard their assigned vessel. Aboard the ships, they will maintain health and safety protocols including universal testing of guests and crew.

Other steps the cruise company has taken to prepare for the return to service, include investing “tens of millions of dollars in enhanced onboard health and safety protocols, including, but not limited to, enhanced hospital-grade air filtration systems, cutting-edge contact tracing technology, and significantly upgraded ICU and quarantine medical facilities.”

Norwegian contents that its vessels are now well equipped to handle the one-off case of infection that could occur and addressing one of the CDC’s key points, “we will not require federal, state or local governments to incur time and/or resources in providing medical assistance to our brands’ guests.”

On or about July 4, 2021, Norwegian says ships from its brands Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises will begin cruise operations at an initial reduced capacity of 60 percent, gradually ramping up the fleet departing from U.S. ports and increasing capacity by 20 percent every 30 days.

“We trust that you will agree that our protocols extend well beyond the protocols of other travel, leisure and hospitality sectors, all of which have already reopened, including hotels and resorts, casinos, restaurants, sporting venues, theme parks, and airlines. We believe that a cruise ship with a fully vaccinated population, when combined with the virus protection defenses provided by the health and safety protocols, is one of the safest vacation options available,” writes Frank Del Rio. President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings in the letter to the CDC.

Norwegian admits that the risk of COVID-19 cannot be eliminated in entirety, but cites that over the past eight months the cruise industry has successfully carried nearly 400,000 passengers in more than 10 major cruise markets outside the United States with only a few isolated COVID-19 cases. They say that this was also achieved before the availability of widespread vaccinations.

This is the latest effort by the cruise industry to compel the CDC to move forward with restoring cruise operations. Several leading travel organizations have said they believe the CDC is using outdated information and slow to respond while several cruise lines have announced plans to resume summer operations outside the U.S.