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Debate Continues Over U.S. Cruise Restart

efforts to resttart cruises from U.S. ports
Crystal Symphony will join the restarting cruise ships sailing starting in August in the Caribbean (Crystal Cruises)

Published Apr 16, 2021 6:52 PM by The Maritime Executive

The battle lines are being drawn in the debate to accelerate the restart of cruises from American ports. The industry is continuing its lobbying efforts and pushing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for action while U.S. senators and representatives are introducing legislation but, in a surprise move, other senators are now calling on the CDC to maintain its position not risking a new health crisis.

CNBC is reporting that executives of the major cruise lines met earlier this week with the CDC and White House officials overseeing the COVID-19 response again asking the CDC to provide specific steps and a timeline to restart cruises from U.S. ports. According to CNBC, the executives were promoting the idea that cruise ships, similar to the efforts emerging in the U.K. and elsewhere, would require passengers to be fully vaccinated and that they would test everyone before and after the cruise for COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association confirmed the meeting to CNBC. They reported that the industry believed that the new administration was listening to their point of view, and they were confident that positive steps were being taken.

This came as the U.S. senators representing Florida and Alaska proposed an act to restore summer cruise operations. Their act would force the CDC to provide direction and repeal its current conditional order that has been preventing the cruise industry from moving forward with sailings from U.S. ports. A representative from Florida announced co-sponsorship of the act in the U.S. House of Representatives and late in the week a representative from Alabama became a co-sponsor.

Further adding to the pressure on the CDC, Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings released a public letter addressed to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC, “respectfully request a prompt response,” to the proposal the cruise company sent to the CDC outlining its plans to resume cruise from U.S., ports in July. “It is frustrating, that to date, we have yet to receive even an acknowledgment of this proposal,” said the letter signed by Frank Del Rio CEO and President of the company. “We strongly believe our proposal should be the model for how the travel and hospitality industry operates in a COVID-19 environment.”

While much of the attention has been on the efforts designed to restart cruising, at the end of the week California Congresswoman Doris Matsui and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal sent a letter to the CDC urging it to strictly enforce recently issued safety guidance under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order and immediately halt cruises if outbreaks occur on board. 

“Prematurely lifting restrictions on cruising – with thousands of people in close proximity and conditions ripe for spread of infections – threatens a serious setback in this progress,” they wrote to Dr. Walensky. The congresswoman and senator have been outspoken critics of the cruise industry advocating for improving safety, security, and medical standards aboard cruise vessels. 

At the end of a tumultuous week, the cruise industry continues to be in limbo in the U.S. instead adding to its plans to restore operations in international markets while it awaits CDC action. Crystal Cruises announced that another of its cruise ships, the Crystal Symphony, will sail between August and December from Antigua on 10-day Caribbean cruises marketing in the U.S., while MSC Cruises detailed plans to operate at least seven of its 19 cruise ships this summer with six in the Mediterranean and one in the U.K., while three others prepare for the reopening of Germany. TUI’s British brand Marella Cruises also announced it would sail in the summer domestic U.K. market while Germany’s AIDA announced it would add cruises from Greece this summer in addition to its Canary Island cruises. Many of the cruise lines are reporting strong demand for their summer programs with record booking days and in some cases have already sold out much of their summer capacity.

Momentum continues to build across the cruise industry with everyone watching the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their next announcements.