Norwegian says a summer restart for U.S. cruising could be in jeopardy

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The Norwegian Epic. Norwegian Cruise Line's parent company says the summer cruising season in the U.S. could be in jeopardy.
The Norwegian Epic. Norwegian Cruise Line's parent company says the summer cruising season in the U.S. could be in jeopardy.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) warned today that a potential midsummer restart from U.S. ports could be in jeopardy.

"As valuable time goes by, given the lead time needed to stand up a ship and the need for an acceptable and definitive agreement with the CDC, a potential midsummer restart from U.S. ports could be in jeopardy," the company said in a statement.

Speaking during the line’s earnings call Thursday, NCLH CEO Frank Del Rio told analysts that a July restart from the U.S. was "just not possible" because it takes about 90 days to stand up a ship.

Del Rio said a July restart was a possibility back in early April, when he personally asked the CDC to lift its Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and allow NCLH to resume sailing on July 4, promising to require full vaccination of all guests and crew when it relaunches.

He did say that the CDC’s recent "willingness to engage with the industry in constructive dialogue has shown that they are committed to working with us to find an acceptable path forward, and we are certainly in a better place today than we were just 30 days ago.”

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Del Rio noted that its three cruise brands have restart plans in several countries in Europe and the Caribbean while it waits to launch from its home base in the U.S.

"Our team is working through the recently issued and modified technical guidance for which additional clarification is needed on how the incorporation of vaccine requirements impacts the Conditional Sailing Order and our path forward," Del Rio said, adding that, "at first glances it appears the path forward is a bit rockier and a bit steeper than originally expected."

The comments came hours after the CDC released updated guidance for cruise ships to undertake simulated test voyages with volunteer passengers as part of its Covid-19 CSO application and reiterated that its "goal aligns with the prospective resumption of passenger operations in the United States by midsummer, expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers."

"With the issuance of these documents, cruise ship operators now have all the necessary requirements and recommendations they need to start simulated voyages before resuming restricted passenger voyages," the CDC said in a statement.

Frank Del Rio
Frank Del Rio

NCLH again reiterated its contention that its plan to sail is "consistent with the CDC's updated travel guidance for a fully vaccinated onboard population" in addition to its other, multilayered health and safety protocols, which, NCLH said, "extends well beyond the protocols of the travel, leisure and hospitality sectors, all of which have already reopened."

"The company strongly believes that by requiring mandatory vaccinations for all guests and crew on initial voyages, in addition to comprehensive preventative protocols, the plan exceeds the intent of the CDC's CSO and would accelerate the path to resume cruising while allowing for the CDC to reallocate resources to competing public health priorities," NCLH said.

UPDATED: This report was updated at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday to include statements from the Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings earnings call.

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