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In Industry Step Forward, CDC Seeks Public Comment On Cruise Resumption
Popular cruise ships docked in Nassau, a favorite stop among cruisers. (Photo: Cruise Critic)

In Industry Step Forward, CDC Seeks Public Comment On Cruise Resumption

In Industry Step Forward, CDC Seeks Public Comment On Cruise Resumption
Popular cruise ships docked in Nassau, a favorite stop among cruisers. (Photo: Cruise Critic)

July 29, 2020

Aaron Saunders
By Aaron Saunders
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(2:15 p.m. EDT) -- The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is asking for the input of the public, cruise lines and industry stakeholders on how cruises should be allowed to resume during the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Until September 21, the public has time to comment on
59 separate questions and sub-questions
pertaining to all aspects of cruising, through the U.S. Federal Register.
While representing a positive and major step forward -- the CDC is now opening the door for discussions on resuming cruises, as opposed to strictly dealing with crew repatriations – the timeline casts doubt on the ability to resume cruises from the United States in the early fall.
Earlier this month, the CDC had
extended its 'No Sail' order
for all cruise ships operating within U.S. waters until September 30, 2020
With this new public consultation process open until just nine days prior to the expiry of the No Sail order, it is increasingly unlikely that cruises will start back up on October 1.
Some lines, including Princess Cruises, have already
voluntarily cancelled sailings
into December.

What Has the CDC Been Doing For the Past Six Months?

Center for Disease Control and Prevention website (Photo: g0d4ather/Shutterstock.com)
The relationship between the cruise lines and the CDC has been noticeably strained during the COVID-19 pandemic that started affecting the cruise industry in earnest back in February.
On March 14, one to two days after most cruise lines began voluntarily suspending operations, the CDC issued the first iteration of its No Sail order that was in effect for 30 days initially. One month later, the CDC extended that suspension to July 24 before later revising it again until September 30.
During the past six months, the CDC has primarily been focused on working with the cruise lines as they repatriated crewmembers from ships. The issue of crew repatriations in the entire maritime industry -- not just cruise -- has been a substantial issue for seafarers globally since the pandemic began.
"Cruise ships have faced particular challenges, with much larger numbers of people on board (both seafarers and passengers) compared to cargo ships,"
notes the International Maritime Organization
, or IMO.  "They may have thousands of passengers and crew, while even the biggest cargo ships may only have some 20 crew on board."
The IMO notes that several countries have declared seafarers as essential workers during these times, including the Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Chile, France, Japan, Liberia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Thailand and the United Kingdom. The United States does not yet recognize seafarers, or seafarer crew changes, as essential.
"Most cruise lines stopped sailings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and have since been working to disembark and repatriate their passengers and crew," says the IMO. "But to do this requires collaboration and cooperation between cruise lines, governments and others – which is exactly what IMO has been calling for."
The CDC developed
a color-coded guidance chart
to help cruise lines achieve cleared status to repatriate crew members. This involved lines agreeing to dozens of rules, regulations and procedures, including cancelling all social activities for crew members, closing crew bars and fitness areas, and essentially confining workers to their cabins in some cases.
The CDC also put stringent rules on repatriating crew through the United States. This included banning the crew from staying in a hotel overnight at any point until their final destination was reached; not using public transportation or entering a public airport terminal and not take commercial flights. The rules meant that most cruise lines repatriated crew members to their home countries by sea, which added months to the time they were on the ships.
Only one cruise line -- Palm Beach-based Bahamas Paradise -- managed to achieve the "Green Status" needed to repatriate crew via commercial means for its one operational ship. The CDC did, however, assist cruise lines in passenger and crew repatriations outside of the regulatory chart developed well into the pandemic.
Both the CDC and cruise lines have said that they have not yet had any substantiate discussions over how cruises can resume safely. This request for information by the CDC is the first major positive step toward making that happen.

What Feedback Does the CDC Want?

Caribbean Princess (Photo: Princess Cruises)
In its call for feedback, the CDC is seeking answers to a myriad of questions covering all aspects of the cruise experience.
A few examples of what the CDC is after:
  • Should cruise ship operators be required to provide scientific evidence that reducing length of voyages would decrease the risk of further introduction of COVID-19 to U.S. communities?
  • How should cruise ship operators address specific country travel restrictions that emerge as COVID-19 activity increases in geographical areas, such as a. border closures preventing passengers and crew from repatriating? b. seaport closures preventing porting of ships? c. embarking passengers originating from countries with heightened COVID-19 activity?
  • What plans should cruise ship operators have for operationalizing shoreside quarantine facilities in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak on board a ship, without exposing the public and without relying on Federal, State, or local resources?
  • Should cruise ship operators deny boarding to passengers coming from COVID-19 high-incidence geographic areas?
  • Should cruise ship operators be required to provide scientific evidence that reducing length of voyages would decrease the risk of further introduction of COVID-19 to U.S. communities?
Many of these questions are quite involved and require deep analysis of several different aspects of the cruise vacation.

What Regions Are Covered by the CDC?

Miami Port
The CDC is responsible for cruises that either embark/disembark from an American port, or cruises calling on American waters and American ports of call. The only exceptions are vessels that have fewer than 250 combined crew and passengers.
It has no jurisdiction over cruises in other parts of the world, which does leave open the possibility of cruises restarting elsewhere prior to the end of the year.

What's Next?

Woman typing on computer keyboard (Photo: mimagephotography/Shutterstock.com)
Anyone can submit a comment for consideration by the CDC. Relevant answers will be displayed unaltered on the Government Regulations website. Answers must be submitted in writing by physical mail, or through the E-Rulemaking Portal. The document for comments isn't easy to find, so a
link is provided
Following the September 21 deadline for replies, the CDC will likely have to compile these recommendations into a concise document, which will probably have to be formally presented to both Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA); and individual cruise lines operating within U.S. waters. It will then need to be implemented by each individual cruise line.
All of this takes time, though how much time -- and on what timeline -- is currently unknown.
Currently, the CDC's No Sail order only affects vessels with the capacity to carry over 250 people (passengers and crew). It is far more likely that any recommendations resulting from this public consultation will apply to all passenger ships offering overnight cruise passenger service.
Earlier this month, the European Union
released its guidelines
for the healthy resumption of cruise service in the EU. Lines like AIDA and TUI have used this guidance to plan their resumption of service from Germany.
Cruise Critic will update this article with more information as it becomes available. The Federal Register article issued by the CDC
can be viewed here
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