Cruise Ships Take on New Role
Cruise ships have been taking on a new role transporting the different lines' crew home as the public health crisis continues. In recent days, ships have been dispatched from North America sailing for Asia and Europe with crew members aboard.
Some of the lines quietly conducted airlifts of crew on chartered flights from the United States and the Caribbean. For example, Norwegian, Cruise Line Holdings was successful in transporting a reported 7,000 crew members back to Manila in late March and early April. Many of the lines’ ships were spotted shifting in and out of PortMiami and Port Everglades, and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez confirmed at a media conference as many as 500 crew members a day were disembarking in the Port for waiting airplanes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Coast Guard, however, have put a stop to that practice stranding many additional crew members aboard the ships. The cruise companies were anxious to lower ships’ operating costs and return primarily the hotel, entertainment, and crew that staffed the shops, spa and alike home. In mid-April, Carnival Corporation estimated that there were over 70,000 crew members aboard its ships with similar numbers aboard ships from the other major cruise companies.
One of the bigger challenges for the cruise lines is the crew members on the ships in North America and how to get them home with the current regulations and border closures. While cruise ships normally do not operate long-distance transportation, several ships, including several of the most modern have been pressed into that service. For example, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Panorama, which was introduced in December 2019, departed Long Beach on April 8, 2020, heading for Manila, where she is expected to arrive on May 8 along with Princess Cruises Royal Princess and Holland America Line’s Eurodam that also recently departed on trans-Pacific voyages transporting crew.
The next phase of the crew reparation efforts is now underway with some ships that were homeported in Florida and the Caribbean expected to depart in the coming days. To prepare for this, Princess Cruises, for example, gathered six of its ship at anchor in the Bahamas transferred the crew at sea. The Regal Princess recently departed heading for the United Kingdom while both the Island Princess and Crown Princess are currently sailing forwards Brazil on the first leg of their voyages.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Holland America Line similarly gathered ships in the Bahamas. The Veendam recently departed for Gibraltar while both the Volendam and Nieuw Amsterdam are currently sailing for South Africa on the first leg of their voyages. The Amsterdam, which had been making her way across the Indian Ocean after the canceled world cruise ended in Australia, was ordered to reverse course and has now arrived in Jakarta.
Additional crew voyages are expected to commence in the coming days. Carnival Cruise Line has been staging its ships in the Bahamas. Carnival reports once the process of provisioning, bunkering, and final details are completed ships will be sailing for Asia, Europe, India, and Latin America.
Several lines, however, are reporting that their efforts continue to be hampered by closed borders and regulators. For example, the ships have not been permitted to land American citizens back into the United States, despite efforts by the cruise lines to find a solution with the American authorities.
By completing this complex operation, the cruise lines are fulfilling the humanitarian aspects of getting crew home to friends and family, and, of course, the cruise lines are reducing operating costs by terminating crew contracts and furloughs. However, these operations also raise questions about the future operations of cruise ships because of the challenge of rehiring and returning crew members to the ships.
Travel agents, such as Michal Wilson managing director of the UK-based Bolsover Cruise Club, report that they “have seen a resurgence in sales, not only using future cruise credits from cancellations, but also fresh bookings.” Some agents are encouraging future travelers to go ahead and book cruises to secure desired routes and to take advantage of some of the promotions available, noting that the cruise lines have been flexible in cancellations and offering generally 125 percent credits when a cruise is canceled.
Removing the crew however does not point to a quick resumption of service. While no one is certain when the cruise ships will return to service, analyst Robin Farley of UBS recently speculated to her clients, “although we may see some limited short cruises in the Caribbean before the end of the year, we don’t foresee meaningful cruise operations returning until next year.”
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.