With only a few days left in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) policy deadline, its Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) has been temporarily extended until 15th January, 2022, with minor changes.
CSO is the CDC’s phased approach to allowing cruise ships to resume operations from US ports. There are phases each vessel must go through before it can be approved to sail again with passengers from US waters, Royal Caribbean (RCI) explained in a blog.
Many cruise ships have been able to resume US operations since the summer of 2021, including man RCI vessels.
It is being called a ‘temporary extension’ and will commence once the current CSO expires on 1st November, 2021.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signed the CSO’s Temporary Extension & Modification on 25th October, 2021.
This temporary extension will remain in effect until the earliest of –
- The expiration of the US Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration that COVID-19 constitutes a public health emergency;
- The CDC Director rescinds or modifies the order based on specific public health or other considerations; or
- 15th January, 2022 at 12:01 am EDT.
Once the latest extension expires in January, the CDC said it intends to move the CSO to a voluntary basis, where cruise lines and other stakeholders will work together without a federal mandate to ensure proper protocols are followed.
The original CSO was issued on 30th October, 2020 as a response to Covid-19 and the perceived threat of it spreading on cruise ships.
According to the CDC, the rationale for extending it was as a result of the threat the virus still poses today. “Considering the continued spread of the Delta variant, emergence of other COVID-19 variants of concern, breakthrough cases among the fully vaccinated, and possible additional surges of cases and deaths, CDC has determined a temporary extension of the CSO is necessary for foreign-flagged cruise ships operating on international itineraries,” the CDC said.
However, the CDC does intend to let the CSO expire once the January deadline passes. “After the expiration of this temporary extension, CDC intends to transition to a voluntary programme, in co-ordination with interested cruise ship operators and other stakeholders, to assist the cruise ship industry to detect, mitigate, and control the spread of COVID-19 on board cruise ships,” the agency explained.
RCI said that the extension has few changes, although the CDC did take away a few restrictions and requirements, including:
- Removed language referring to cruise ship operator protocols as ‘unproven and untested’.
- Removed requirement to include any CDC travel advisory, warning, or recommendation relating to cruise travel in marketing material.
- Removed requirement to limit voyage to seven days.
- Removed requirement for monitored observation period of passengers prior to embarking.
- Modified to state that voyage may be ended and further action taken if a ship meets ‘red ship criteria’ under Technical Instructions for Crew.
- Removed previous requirement that a cruise ship operator must immediately end the voyage, cancel future voyages, and return to port if COVID-19 is identified on board.
In addition, the CDC said that its CSO instructions only apply on a voluntary basis for ships arriving in, located within, or departing from Florida port, due to the Preliminary Injunction Order, entered by the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida on 18th June, 2021.
Last week, RCI President and CEO, Michael Bayley hinted at the CSO becoming more guidance than regulation. “One of those next steps could be that the CSO would just expire, and we would continue as we are voluntarily, working with the CDC and operating with various protocols and guidelines that have been recommended.”
Bayley said that he believed the success cruise lines have had in getting back to service has been a result of the work with the CDC. “We’ve got 15 ships operating and the protocols are really working,” he claimed.
“Everything is operating extremely well, and that really was only possible through a lot of collaboration with the CDC and working with them and other health authorities around the world,” he added.