The No Sail Order is lifted, but a cruise restart will take time

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The CDC replaced the order with a series of requirements, which it calls a framework, that cruise lines will have to undertake.
The CDC replaced the order with a series of requirements, which it calls a framework, that cruise lines will have to undertake. Photo Credit: NAPA/Shutterstock.com

In lifting the No Sail Order for cruise ships on Friday, ending a more than seven-month ban on large cruise ship operations in U.S. waters, the CDC set the stage for cruising to resume. But it will take some time. 

The CDC replaced the order with a series of requirements, which it calls a framework, that cruise lines will have to undertake to in order to certify that they can prevent the spread of Covid-19 on their ships. The framework includes a requirement that ships conduct test sailings prior to restarting commercial operations and present to the CDC a report showing that those sailings were successful in mitigating the risk of spread to crew, passengers and communities.

Once a simulated voyage is complete and the cruise line reports on its results, the CDC will determine whether that ship will receive a Conditional Sailing Certificate or if it must modify its practices or engage in additional simulated voyages.

Also among the requirements is that a cruise line must apply for elements of Conditional Sailing Certificate at least 60 days before a ship plans to launch passenger cruises, which is likely to push any sailing in U.S. waters until at least early January.

While the simulated sailings will be the biggest barrier to any quick resumption of commercial cruising, there are other tasks to be completed. The lines must also establish agreements with shoreside healthcare entities in any ports in which they plan to operate, in case they need to evacuate any passengers and crew in need of Covid-19 care to a hospital.

Cruise executives said last month that preparing a ship to sail again would take anywhere from 30 to 60 days, with the additional necessary protocols contributing to the longer duration.

"It's not turning on a light switch," Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said in October, adding that among the necessary steps the lines have to take are repatriating their crew and installing the technology needed to carry out the recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel. "The No. 1 obstacle is the No Sail Order, but there are others."

CLIA said on Friday that its cruise line members were prepared to implement "multiple layers of protocols informed by the latest scientific and medical knowledge" and pointed to the work its members have been doing with outside experts in health and science to develop such measures, and which the industry has adopted.

CEO Kelly Craighead said that while CLIA "looks forward to reviewing the new order in detail, we expect much of the Healthy Sail Panel's recommendations, which were adopted by CLIA's Global of Directors earlier this month, have been considered and will serve as an important foundation."

CLIA also pointed to its members lines' resumption in other parts of the world, using its own protocols.

"With enhanced measures in place -- including 100% testing for passengers and crew prior to boarding, mask-wearing, physical distancing requirements, highly controlled shore excursions and many more -- CLIA members have gradually resumed sailing in Europe and other parts of the world with success," the organization said.

The No Sail Order first went into effect on March 14 and was extended in April, July and September, when it was extended until Oct. 31.

Travel advisors also weighed in on the CDC's framework. Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, said it was "reassuring to learn we have a clear sense of direction on a phased-in approach and guidelines for a safe resumption of cruising."

"We applaud the travel industry for their efforts to minimize and prevent the introduction, transmission and spread of Covid-19 by devising and adapting to changing circumstances while prioritizing traveler's safety," Fee said. "This has been working well across all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and in Mexico and cruises sailing in Europe. We are confident in the cruise line's abilities to implement the health and safety protocols."

Tom Baker of CruiseCenter in Houston said that he believed the lines "are prepared to do this as right as they possibly can."

"My concern is the CDC demand for test voyages," he said. "This has a much greater cost and implementation, as the ships will have to have ancillary crew or borrow crew from nearby sister ships to do this. My best guess is that this will take a long time."

Citing the time it will take the lines to bring crew from various countries, quarantine and test them, provision and prepare ships for service and deploy them to U.S. ports, and to then launch test sailings and gain CDC approval, Baker said, "This will likely take a minimum of two months. The bigger piece for all the cruise lines is to combat media negativity and consumer fears by explaining safety measures implemented to create a safer mode of travel for its guests."

Updated: This report was updated Nov. 2 with additional comments.

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