In the light of the pandemic, US Congress has given the US Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) the role of administering a law (Shipping Act) to ensure that passenger vessel operators (PVOs) satisfy their financial responsibilities.
This law covers the non-performance of transportation and death or injury to passengers.
The purposes of the Shipping Act (law) include the provision of ‘‘an efficient and economic transportation system in the ocean commerce of the US that is, insofar as possible, in harmony with, and responsive to, international shipping practices,’’ the FMC said in a notice.
Under the terms of the Shipping Act, the FMC regulates the US ocean common carriage. When they are engaged in the transport of passengers between the US and a foreign country, PVOs are common carriers under the Act.
PVOs are also subject to the regulation’s requirements, ‘to prevent financial loss and hardship to the American travelling public, who, after payment of cruise passage money, are stranded by the abandonment or cancellation of a cruise.’
On 14th March, 2020, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a ‘No Sail Order’ and ‘Suspension of Further Embarkation’ order causing PVOs to cease operations. Due to the unpredictable nature of this disease, the CDC has extended the term of the order.
Consequently, questions concerning future travel and passengers’ ability to obtain refunds of monies remitted for transportation disrupted by COVID–19 are legion.
Given the FMC’s mandate to: (1) Ensure an efficient and economic transportation system for ocean commerce for both goods and passengers under the Shipping Act; and (2) ensure that PVOs maintain adequate financial responsibility to indemnify passengers for non-performance and meet any liability, which may be incurred for death or injury to passengers or other persons, the commission said that it had a clear and compelling responsibility to actively investigate and respond to the current challenges impacting the cruise industry and the US ports that rely on it.
Therefore, Commissioner Louis Sola was given the task of engaging with cruise industry stakeholders, including PVOs, passengers and marine terminal operators, in public or non-public discussions, to identify commercial solutions to COVID–19-related issues that interfere with the cruise industry’s operation.
He was asked to form one or more teams, composed of cruise industry leaders and other stakeholders, to develop commercial solutions to these challenges and to interact with any or all maritime related COVID–19 task forces of which the FMC is affiliated or monitors to collect data related to the virus and its impact on the cruise industry.
In addition, the Commissioner will provide a preliminary report and periodic updates to the FMC on the results of his efforts. He will be given full authority to perform his duties as may be necessary in accordance with US law and FMC regulations.