Cruise industry representatives and groups who are opposed to cruising, have filed contrasting petitions with the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) regarding the agency’s ‘No sail Order,’ which is due to expire on 30th September.
Monday 21st September was the last day of the CDC’s public comment period.
On that date, Royal Caribbean Group (RCL) and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) submitted a joint report to the CDC on their planned protocols for a safe return to service.
The two operators formed a joint committee on coronavirus response measures in June, chaired by Governor Mike Leavitt, former US Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The 65-page report included 74 recommendations, including testing, the use of face coverings and enhanced sanitation procedures on ships and in terminals.
Although deemed expensive, NCLH’s CEO Frank Del Rio told Reuters that the cost was not important. “We are at a zero revenue environment. This is a necessary step to return to service and we’re not really concerned about what the costs are,” he said.
The report comes as a group of cruise industry critics appealed to the CDC to keep cruise ships idle. The environmental groups Stand.earth and Friends of the Earth US submitted petitions with more than 50,000 combined signatures on Monday, calling for CDC to extend its ‘No-sail Order’ for a second time.
“As long as the cruise industry refuses to implement changes needed to protect its passengers, our environment, and local communities, the industry should not restart cruising,” asserted Marcie Keever, the oceans and vessels programme director at Friends of the Earth US.
The petition’s health-related proposals include a requirement that all prospective passengers and crew should have COVID-19 antibodies.
In the US, this qualification exists only for people who have previously had COVID-19 or (for a very small number) are participating in a COVID-19 vaccine trial. The timeline for widespread availability of an approved vaccine – which would increase the number of individuals with antibodies dramatically – is not yet clear.
The groups also cited evidence that tough-to-control aerosol transmission played a significant role in the spread of COVID-19 in previous cruise ship outbreaks. Based on this risk, they called on the CDC to forego cruising altogether until the end of the pandemic.
In June, RCL and NCLH formed the ’Healthy Sail Panel’ comprising of experts in medical practice and research, public health, infectious diseases, bio-security, hospitality and maritime operations.
They identified five focus areas, which every cruise operator should address to improve health and safety for guests and crew, and reduce the risk of infection and spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships:
– Testing, Screening and Exposure Reduction.
– Sanitation and Ventilation.
– Response, Contingency Planning and Execution.
– Destination and Excursion Planning.
– Mitigating Risks for Crew Members.
In each category, the panel created practical and actionable recommendations to address specific safety concerns. Among the recommendations are key strategies such as:
– Taking aggressive measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering a ship through robust education, screening and testing of both crew and guests prior to embarkation.
– Reducing transmission via air management strategies and enhanced sanitation practices.
– Implementing detailed plans to address positive infection on board, including contingencies for on board treatment, isolation and rapid evacuation and repatriation.
– Closely controlling shore excursions.
– Enhanced protection for crew members.