Cruise Industry Extends Pause from U.S. Ports

Cruise ships in Port Everglades (file photo)

Published Jun 19, 2020 3:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the trade association for the cruise industry, announced that its ocean-going cruise line members will voluntarily extend the suspension of cruise operations from U.S. ports until September 15, 2020. 

The surprise announcement came as some of the international cruise lines prepared to resume operations and the North American lines were beginning to announce new health protocols. Industry observers, however, had noted that pressure was likely rising on the cruise industry due to the recent spike in reported COVID-19 cases in Florida, the headquarters for the cruise industry, and home port to many of the cruise ships that were expected to resume service.

Noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions’ no sail order is currently due to expire on July 24, CLIA said, "Due to the ongoing situation within the U.S. related to COVID-19, CLIA member cruise lines have decided to voluntarily extend the period of suspended passenger operations.”  

CLIA continued, “although we had hoped that cruise activity could resume as soon as possible after that date, it is increasingly clear that more time will be needed to resolve barriers to the resumption in the United States.”  

The CDC made it clear in its first weekly update on the status of the cruise ships, issued on June 15, that it was not ready for the cruise industry to resume passenger operations. “We don’t have enough information at this time to say when it will be safe to resume sailing with passengers. Cruise lines may need to establish additional safety measures before sailing with passengers is permitted to resume. CDC will continue to evaluate and update its recommendations as the situation evolves,” the CDC website said. While the no sail order was due to expire 100 days after it was issued, the CDC director can alter or extend it based on the status of the virus. 

Industry executives had met with CDC officials on June 11 but afterward emphasized that the focus continued to be crew reparation efforts. The cruise lines said they will use the additional time to continue to consult with the CDC on appropriate measures. Many of the lines are currently working to revise their crew protocols to gain CDC acceptance that could lead to permissions for crew members to travel home on commercial transportation.  

Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, which operates short cruises from Florida to the Bahamas, had announced plans to resume service the day after the end of the no sail order. It, like other cruise lines including Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages, had also released detailed protocols for their operations in the face of the continuing public health crisis. Among the major North America cruise lines, only Carnival Cruise Line had announced specific ships and itineraries it was targeting to resume in August. 

Cruising had been expected to resume in the United States this week when American Cruise Line planned to start river cruises in the Pacific Northwest. They were forced to postpone those cruises due to a change in regulations in Oregon, but the small ship operators, including American Cruise Line, American Queen Steamboat Company, and UnCruise Adventures, continue to plan to resume cruises in July and August. CLIA noted that the current extension excluded small ships with a capacity under 250 persons. 

While many of the cruise lines have recently announced that they would be extending their cancellations, a few of the European cruise lines have either resumed operations or are announcing plans as the restrictions on travel are lowered. In Norway, for example, Hurtigruten resumed its coastal cruises sailing from Bergen while Sea Dream Yacht Club plans to launch service in the summer having repositioned its two small cruise ships to Norway. Similarly, German tour operator TUI announced it would be resuming its land tours and planning short North Sea cruises this summer for its large cruise ships.

Despite the uncertainty, many loyal cruise fans remain anxious to start cruising again. Port operators and the associated business, as well as the small, local businesses in destinations that depend on tourists, are also hopeful that cruise passengers will return due to the contribution to the local economies.