The cruise lines have voluntarily suspended operations in the US for over seven months. They have proactively created, at their own expense, a comprehensive 74-point Healthy Sail proposal, formulated by an expert panel from outside the industry. And they have begged for engagement and been left waiting, whilst airlines, hotels and theme parks have blithely resumed operations.
Finally, the CDC has issued a 'Framework for Conditional Sailing Order', a 40-page document setting down the outline for a phased resumption of passenger cruises on vessels with a passenger capacity of at least 250 passengers in waters subject to US jurisdiction.
Does this mean cruises will resume immediately?
Absolutely not. What this does is enable the cruise lines to start planning a gradual resumption of services. As we have highlighted before, this will not, and indeed cannot, happen overnight. Crew need to be brought back to each ship, it needs to be brought back to a condition which will enable it to sail (easier or harder depending whether it was in hot lay-up or cold lay-up), provisioning needs to be planned, operations negotiated with various ports of call, and more.
Even when the ship is ready to go, it will need full approval that it is adhering to the guidelines, and in the early stages, the measures need to be tested to ensure they are effective.
How come some cruise lines in Europe have been able to operate over the summer?
In Europe, the European Healthy Gateways document was finalised back in June. Ships were operating in domestic markets (Germany, France, Italy, Greece) away from the jurisdiction of the CDC. The industry at large has been able to learn much from these European operations.
What about the UK?
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office advisory, renewed back on 9th July 2020, advises against all cruise ship travel. The recommendation applies to international travel on sea-going cruise ships, which provide overnight accommodation and leisure facilities, with people from multiple households. River cruises are excluded from this advice.
Whilst it is unlikely that this will be updated at a time when the UK is going back into full lockdown, we feel confident that the FCDO will follow the US, and that by the time cruise operations resume, their advisory will be lifted. The Chamber of Shipping Framework document which was completed at the beginning of October is all ready to go, and just awaiting the final approval from the FCDO, with the support of the Maritime Minister Robert Courts, who attended CLIA UK's conference last week.
What happens now?
Cruise ship operators in US waters must demonstrate adherence to testing, quarantine and isolation, and social distancing requirements to protect crew members while they build the laboratory capacity on board their ships, to test crew and future passengers. Subsequent phases will include simulated voyages with volunteers playing the role of passengers to test cruise ship operators' ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk, certification for ships that meet specific requirements, and return to passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew members and communities. There are many pages of requirements that cruise lines will have to meet before they can be awarded a Conditional Sailing Certificate.
CLIA says the cruise industry is already well on the way to meeting the CDC's requirements.
"Guided by the recommendations of leading experts in health and science, including the Healthy Sail Panel, our members are 100 percent committed to helping to protect the health of our guests, our crew and the communities we serve, and are prepared to implement multiple layers of protocols informed by the latest scientific and medical knowledge," CLIA said.