MIAMI -- Will cruise ships be pressed into service as floating hotels for victims of Hurricane Katrina?

The idea is being talked about, but some industry observers say the timing and logistics make it more likely that cruise lines would end up hosting disaster recovery and relief workers at a later phase, if at all.

Carnival Cruise Lines said last week it had received an initial inquiry from the federal government about using cruise ships for Katrina relief efforts.

Although to undertake such an endeavor would involve many complicated issues, we are actively taking a look at it, the line said in a statement. We are immensely saddened and concerned for the people of the Gulf Coast who have been devastated by this storm.

Royal Caribbean Cruises CEO Richard Fain told Travel Weekly that his company had been talking to state and federal agencies to see if theres some way to make a difference. And at NCL Corp., a spokeswoman said: If it is feasible, the company will look at moving ships to accommodate relief workers.

The idea, which was broached last week on CNNs Larry King Live, was enthusiastically supported by agents like Cynthia Neu of the Fun and Fitness Travel Club in McLean, Va., who wrote in an e-mail to the presidents of Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises: An overnight bed and shower provided [to] desperate mothers and their children would be remembered forever by Americans watching TV.

But the concept is a tricky one to put into practice.

The port of New Orleans, a lifeline of the city and one of the biggest ports in the country, remained closed last week except for tugs, barges, offshore vessels and recovery boats. 

Can a cruise ship get anywhere near where it has to be? wondered Jay Lewis, executive director of the Passenger and Shipping Institute, a Miami-based research firm. At the end of the day, how many people are you going to provide for? And who selects who gets to be on a cruise ship?

The lines also would have to cancel cruises and refund passengers on scheduled voyages to make ships available, a costly act. Provisioning the ship and paying crew, who work for tips, would also be an issue.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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