All Aboard! Big Boats Back, But Not Yet.

Photo: Prayitn/Flickr. The way we were? This photo shows a huge 'floatel' at anchor in the US Virgin Islands.
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Saturday, October 31st 2020–The United States Centers For Disease Control (CDC) has dropped its “no sail” order for cruise ships in favor of a strict “Conditional Sailing Order” and the cruise ship industry will work with the CDC on a realistic, phased-in return to service.


“CDC will ensure cruise ship operators have adequate health and safety protections for crew while these cruise ship operators build the laboratory capacity needed to test future passengers.”

Later phases will include simulated voyages to test cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk, certification for ships that meet specific requirements, and a phased return to cruise ship passenger voyages in a manner that reduces or eliminates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew members, and U.S. communities.

These phases are subject to change based on public health considerations and cruise ship operators’ demonstrated ability to mitigate COVID19 risk.

The framework allows for individual cruise lines to progress through phases at variable paces, according to the agency, and enables cruise lines successfully implementing public health measures to return to passenger operations more quickly while others by necessity may move more slowly.

The framework not only encourages cruise lines that are more successful at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 but provides a realistic timeline that anticipates COVID-19 continuing to be present and affecting cruise ship travel, the CDC said.

The phased-in approach will include:

  • establishment of laboratory testing of crew onboard cruise ships in U.S. waters;
  • 15 simulated voyages designed to test a cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 on cruise ships;
  • a certification process; and
  • a return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates the risk of COVID-19 introduction, transmission, or spread among passengers and crew onboard ships and ashore to communities.

These phases will be further determined based on public health considerations including the trajectory of COVID-19 transmission and the demonstrated ability of cruise ship operators to successfully employ measures that mitigate the risk of COVID-19.

Under the new structure, cruise companies must demonstrate adherence to stringent health and safety protocols including extensive testing, quarantine measures and social distancing. If they meet these C.D.C. standards, first on a series of crew-only test sailings, they will eventually be allowed to resume passenger excursions.

The “no sail” order was originally issued on March 14 for all American cruises after it emerged that cruise ships played a major role in the initial outbreak of the coronavirus. The ships were remarkably efficient at spreading the virus.

On board the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan in February, each case of Covid-19 was transmitted to approximately 15 other people. In Wuhan, China — the original epicenter of the virus — one person transmitted the disease to about four other people, a recent study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine found.

In two words, not soon.

The first ships to sail in U.S. waters will be simulated crew-only voyages designed to test a vessel’s capabilities to implement health and safety protocols and prove that the  cruise line’s can handle the risks of Covid-19 onboard.

Cruise lines will not be allowed to commence passenger operations until they meet all the requirements and are granted a conditional Covid-19 sailing certificate issued by the C.D.C.

Most major cruise lines have already announced that they will not resume operations until 2021.

The largest cruise companies, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean and MSC have canceled their sailings through the end of November. Last month, Carnival canceled all its 2020 cruises, except for those between Miami and Port Everglades.

Passengers who test positive for Covid-19 before boarding a cruise ship will not be permitted to board.

Those who test positive onboard a ship will be isolated and then transferred to a dedicated facility on shore. All remaining passengers and nonessential crew will also be required to go into quarantine. In the spring, some passengers spent weeks confined to their staterooms after cases broke out on board their cruises.

Initially shore excursions will be closely controlled and limited to private and domestic destinations. Cruise operators are devising protocols to vet vendors for onshore excursions to ensure that they comply with health and safety protocols that are applied on board ships. The measures include physical distancing, sanitation, personal protective equipment, personnel screening and training.

On a recent sailing by the Costa Diadema, a ship belonging to the Carnival Corporation’s Italian cruise operation, cases cropped up despite testing after passengers took shore excursions on the Greek Islands. The guests were asymptomatic and tested positive upon re-entry into Italy.

Those cruise ship destinations in the Caribbean that are already working on certification for shore excursions and ‘ resilient corridors’ may see their rewards in the long term as cruise ship activity gradually returns.

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