In a powerful statement released by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the organization called for a lifting of the current Conditional Sailing Order by the CDC and a return to sailing from the United States by July.
“CLIA, which represents 95% of global ocean-going cruise capacity, today called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lift the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and allow for the planning of a phased resumption of cruise operations from U.S. ports by the beginning of July. The early-July timeframe is in line with President Biden’s forecast for when the United States will be “closer to normal,” the press release said.
Since pausing in March 2020, the U.S. cruise industry was first under a “No Sail Order” until October. At that time, the CDC replaced the order with a new framework designed to get cruising resumed safely.
That framework lays out a number of steps that cruise lines need to meet to be approved for return. It also requires more instructions from the CDC to the cruise lines, which cruise lines say have yet to be delivered.
“Following the industry’s voluntary suspension of operations one year ago, cruise lines have been prevented from operating in the U.S. by a series of “No Sail Orders” issued by the CDC. The CSO was issued last October, but since then the CDC has not released any further guidance, as called for in the CSO, to support the resumption of U.S. cruise operations,” the statement from CLIA said.
“The lack of any action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world. Cruising is the only sector of the U.S. economy that remains prohibited, even as most others have opened or continued to operate throughout the pandemic.”
Already a Successful Return in Other Parts of the World
It’s not just the lack of instruction from the CDC that CLIA points to as a reason to get back to sailing soon.
In fact, cruises have returned to many parts of the world under new protocols designed to keep passengers healthy. And most recently, Royal Caribbean announced trips sailing from The Bahamas and Bermuda beginning in June.
“Over the past eight months, a highly-controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific—with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets. These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19. Additional sailings are planned in the Mediterranean and Caribbean later this spring and summer,” said Kelly Craighead, CLIA’s President and CEO.
Of those sailings, CLIA says that fewer than 50 cases have been reported onboard. That comes out to a roughly 0.01% infection rate.
Vaccines Add Another Layer of Safety
One other thing to note is that the low number of cases has come without vaccines being required. Cruise lines are moving toward more sailings with vaccinated passengers, and executives have hailed the doses as game-changers in cruising safely.
In fact, when the original Conditional Sail Order was released in October 2020, no vaccines were approved in the United States. Today, several different kinds are available and more than 125 million doses administered, according to the CDC.
To the cruise industry, the availability of vaccines changes the dynamic.
“The outdated CSO, which was issued almost five months ago, does not reflect the industry’s proven advancements and success operating in other parts of the world, nor the advent of vaccines, and unfairly treats cruises differently.” Craighead said.
Could This Statement Start the Return of Sailing?
While there may have been grumbles about cruises being singled out by the CDC, this statement is by far the most direct from the cruise industry.
Whether it will have an impact on hastening the return of sailing from the United States will be something to watch. As of now most trips are suspended until at least July 2021 from the U.S. In the meantime, vaccinations have ramped up dramatically while overall cases have dropped sharply.
Today cases are roughly 57,000 per day. That’s still a high number, but dramatically lower than just a couple of months ago. As well, vaccines continue to show strong efficacy against the virus.
In our opinion, the relatively low cases that have occurred on cruises is a promising sign that lines can sail safely in the new environment — especially if vaccines are required to board.