Most North American cruising on hold until October as CDC extends ‘no-sail’ order

Jul 16, 2020

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Call it the final nail in the coffin for a quick comeback to cruising in North America.

Citing the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late Thursday extended its “no-sail” order for cruise ships operating out of U.S. ports until Sept. 30.

Initially announced in March and extended in April, the order had been scheduled to expire on July 24.

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The order forbids cruise companies from operating passenger trips out of U.S. ports or calling at U.S. ports with passengers.

“On cruise ships, passengers and crew share spaces that are more crowded than most urban settings,” the CDC said in a statement. “Even when only essential crew are on board, ongoing spread of COVID-19 still occurs. If unrestricted cruise ship passenger operations were permitted to resume, passengers and crew on board would be at increased risk of COVID-19 infection.”

The CDC also said that those who work or travel on cruise ships would put “substantial unnecessary risk” on healthcare workers, port personnel, Customs and Border Protection agents and U.S. Coast Guard staff. The people that cruisers come in contact with after returning home also would be put at unnecessary risk, the agency suggested.

In announcing the order, the CDC noted there had been a significant number of coronavirus cases and deaths on cruise ships within U.S. jurisdiction in recent months. The agency said it recorded 2,973 confirmed COVID-19 cases or COVID-19-like illnesses on cruise ships within U.S. jurisdiction between March 1 and July 10. It said it recorded 34 deaths.

For much of the period when the cases and deaths were recorded, only crew were on the ships.

The CDC said it recorded a total of 99 COVID-19 outbreaks on 123 different cruise ships from March 1 through July 10. That was 80% of all ships within U.S. jurisdiction during the time frame.

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Nine ships within U.S. jurisdiction still have ongoing or resolving COVID-19 outbreaks on board, the CDC noted.

In a statement sent to TPG, the main trade group for the cruise industry, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), did not criticize the order extension.

“CLIA and its member lines remain aligned with the CDC in our commitment to public health and safety,” the trade group said.

CLIA added that it was looking forward to discussing issues around the industry’s resumption of passenger operations with the CDC.

A Royal Caribbean ship at sea. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)
Royal Caribbean already had canceled sailings out of U.S. ports through Sept. 15 in advance of Thursday’s extended “no-sail” order from the CDC. (Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean)

“As we continue to work towards the development of enhanced protocols to support the safe resumption of cruise operations around the world, we look forward to timely and productive dialogue with the CDC to determine measures that will be appropriate for ocean-going cruise operations to resume in the United States when the time is right,” CLIA said.

The extension of the “no-sail” order will likely bring a wave of additional cruise cancellations, although only for sailings scheduled for the last weeks of September.

Most cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Holland America already have canceled all cruises in North America through at least Sept. 15. Some lines already have canceled sailing into October or even November.

The only exceptions are a few lines that operate very small vessels in U.S. waters that still have sailings on the schedule for as early as August and may still be able to operate them.

Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles 

The extended no-sail order does not apply to cruise vessels designed to carry fewer than 250 people (passengers and crew combined).

Small-ship specialists American Cruise Lines, which operates a fleet of 12 small vessels on U.S. rivers and coastal waterways, still hope to restart cruises in limited locations in the coming month or two. America Cruise Lines vessels hold just 100 to 190 passengers.

Also hoping to restart some cruising as soon as August are U.S. riverboat line American Queen Steamboat Company and Alaska small-ship adventure specialist UnCruise Adventures.

The latter company operates ships that carry just 22 to 86 passengers.

The CDC said the extended order would stay in place unless the U.S. government determines the coronavirus outbreak is no longer a public health emergency. The order also can be rescinded or modified by the CDC director. The CDC included similar language in its last extension of the order.

Additional resources for cruisers during the coronavirus outbreak:

Feature image by Joan Fischer courtesy of Maine Windjammer Association

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