Skift Take

The cruise industry appears to be taking a contrarian stance to U.S. public health officials, a move that's baffling given the industry's need to rehabilitate its image.

The cruise industry received another blow on April 9, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended its initial No Sail Order a further 100 days, pushing the potential resumption of the cruise industry’s operations until late July.

But the cruise industry seems to think this rule doesn’t yet apply to them just yet. Instead, the three major lines are continuing to advertise their intent to resume cruising well before late July. Furthermore, the industry’s trade group CLIA argued in a statement on Friday that the CDC is unfairly “singling out the cruise industry, which has been proactive in its escalation of health and sanitation protocols and was one of the first industries to announce a voluntary suspension of operations.”

The CDC’s No Sail Order — which was an extension of its initial order on March 14 — could end sooner than the 100-day timeline, but only if the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares that Covid-19 is no longer a public health emergency before then. The order reiterated the CDC director’s belief that “cruise ship travel exacerbates the global spread of COVID-19 and that the scope of this pandemic … has not been controlled sufficiently by the cruise ship industry.” USA Today reported on Monday that the terms of the no sail order were actually softened — from sailings resuming in August to July — after White House interference. The White House denied the claim.

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And yet, the cruise industry is so far continuing to advertise cruising ahead of that July date. Carnival Cruise Line tweeted on Monday that it would resume cruising on June 27. When asked by Skift to account for the roughly one month discrepancy between its new proposed date and the CDC’s timeline, Carnival said it is “continuing our discussions with federal officials, including the CDC. If we are required to extend the pause into July, we will notify our guests.”

Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line told Skift it plans to resume sailing on May 15. It was asked twice by Skift to explain its own more than two month discrepancy with the CDC’s timeline, and declined to provide an answer both times.

Royal Caribbean told Skift, “we are aware of the CDC order and are studying how best to respond to its provisions. Our global sailings are currently suspended through May 11, 2020.” On Monday, its Twitter account reiterated the May 11 date to a passenger on Twitter. It similarly did not account for this two month discrepancy when asked by Skift.

Why the cruise industry thinks it would be able to operate itineraries from U.S. ports and sail in U.S. territorial waters during a period when the CDC is expressly prohibiting it for 100 days is unclear. Richard Caddell, a senior lecturer in maritime law at Cardiff University, told Skift there is no legal mechanism that would allow them to disobey the CDC order.

“It would appear to be either a means of drumming up future business and reminding customers that they still have a market presence, an attempt to pressurise decision-makers to reopen port access at the earliest possible opportunity, or a response to conflicting presidential statements about economic restrictions possibly being eased in the near future in the U.S.” Caddell told Skift. “At the moment, however, there does not appear to be a legal avenue through which they would be able to operate in their intended ‘business as usual’ manner.”

The CDC also expressed its dissatisfaction with the steps the cruise industry has outlined thus far to ensure it does not continue to burden the U.S. health system during a global pandemic. According to the order, there are roughly 80,000 crew members currently aboard 95 vessels idling at sea. Many of them are not essential to operations. In addition, there are currently 15 ships at port or anchoring in US territorial waters with known or suspected cases of Covid-19 on board, and two more ships with passengers trying to return to port.

The cruise industry issued a plan on April 3 outlining how it will ensure adequate medical care for these crew members without relying on U.S. government and shoreside resources. The CDC was not satisfied with this plan, and has asked the industry to re-submit it — along with other provisions regarding containing Covid-19’s spread on board ships — within seven days.

“There are several public health concerns when crew members become ill while onboard these ships and the cruise lines seek the aid of the United States in disembarking them, as has already occurred on numerous occasions,” the order read.
“As operators of non-U.S. flagged vessels sailing in international waters, it is imperative that the cruise ship industry and cruise lines themselves take responsibility for the care of their crew and do not further tax limited U.S. resources during a public health emergency.”

Meanwhile, the cruise industry argues that its unfortunate, high profile position in the Covid-19 pandemic has little to do with the foreign-flagged business model of the industry itself, or the deaths and numerous cases that have occurred onboard its ships, but rather its reporting requirements.

“While it’s easy to focus on cruising because of its high profile, the fact is cruising is neither the source or cause of the virus or its spread,” CLIA’s statement read. “What is different about the cruise industry is the very stringent reporting requirements applicable to vessels that do not apply to comparable venues on land where the spread of communicable disease is just as prevalent. It would be a false assumption to connect higher frequency and visibility in reporting to a higher frequency of infection.”

UPDATED: This post was updated to include comments from Richard Caddell of Cardiff University. 


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Tags: carnival cruise line, cdc, coronavirus, cruise, royal caribbean

Photo credit: An idle Carnival ship sits in Long Beach, CA with the message "Sail Soon" Matt Heidkamp / Skift

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