US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) Commissioner Louis Sola (pictured) recently issued his final report of a fact finding investigation into COVID-19 related impacts on the cruise industry.
Known as Fact Finding 30, this investigation focused on identifying commercial measures passenger cruise lines can adopt to mitigate COVID-19 related impacts on the sector.
As a result of early COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships, on 14th March, 2020 the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a No Sail Order preventing passenger cruise ships from operating.
This order was extended four times prior to the CDC issuing a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, later that year, paving the way for cruise ships to return to passenger operations in the Spring, 2021 with strict health and safety protocols in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
The report highlighted the work Commissioner Sola, as the Fact Finding Officer, carried out during his investigation, the importance of the cruise and related sectors to US cities and regulatory relief provided to smaller cruise lines and all lines that serve the Alaskan market.
Over the course of the two-year investigation, Sola issued six separate reports examining economic impacts on specific states and regions. One study showed that the cruise industry accounts for around 436,000 jobs throughout the US, generating over $25 bill in direct spending nationwide on average prior to the pandemic.
“The passenger cruise industry is a vital economic engine for ports and cities across the US and is an important source of jobs for Americans from all walks of life,” he said.
“Shutting down ships for an indeterminate amount of time had a negative economic impact on the people who rely on cruise ships for income, or the ports and communities that benefit from vessel calls. Determining what needed to be accomplished to allow ships to sail and minimise risks to passengers and crews was a priority for the Fact Finding from its first day.”
The final report also provided an update on the status of a proposed rule amending the Commission’s regulations to clarify under what circumstances and how quickly a passenger can receive a refund for a voyage cancelled or delayed by a cruise line.
“I am pleased the Commission acted on the two regulatory reform proposals I put forward resulting from my work on Fact Finding 30. The responsiveness and support of my fellow Commissioners allowed us to provide needed relief and flexibility to small, US flag cruise operators serving the Pacific Northwest.
“Furthermore, once implemented, our changes to the Commission’s regulations on financial responsibility will benefit cruise passengers due refunds when a cruise line cancels a voyage.
“I am also pleased to note that our efforts identifying the significant economic influence of the cruise industry on the Alaskan economy was useful to the Alaskan Congressional Delegation in their work crafting and quickly passing the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act in response to the Canadian Government suspending all cruise vessel calls to Canadian ports,” Commissioner Sola added.
The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, which President Biden signed into law last May, provided a temporary waiver allowing foreign-flagged cruise ships to sail directly from Washington State to Alaska without having to first berth in Canada, as required by the Passenger Vessel Service Act. This was in response to Canada’s ban on passengers from docking in its waters, due to the pandemic.
Throughout the course of his work, Commissioner Sola also repeatedly highlighted the need to vaccinate all seafarers arriving in the US who wished to be vaccinated and stressed the need to vaccinate crews of passenger vessels.
He also noted that the CDC Director recently affirmed that cruise ships and companies had generally subscribed to the conditional sail order that was due to expire on 15th January. Once expired, the cruise industry intended to continue its voluntary compliance with the CDC framework, and the Centre will continue to provide oversight, according to the FMC.
“Sensible and effective safety and health protocols can successfully minimise potential exposure to communicable diseases aboard a vessel, whether COVID-19 or some other pathogen.
“Ports and cruise lines have aggressively pursued creating the standards and infrastructure that allows ships to sail and be prepared to manage any health contingency that manifests itself. I hope to never see another no sail or conditional sail order issued,” he stressed.