More than three months after first suspending cruises from U.S. ports, operators said they will now continue that pause for another two months — if not longer.
Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group, said in a statement Friday that its members would voluntarily extend the suspension until Sept. 15 or later if necessary. That’s almost two months after a no-sail order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is scheduled to lift on July 24.
“Although we had hoped that cruise activity could resume as soon as possible after that date, it is increasingly clear that more time will be needed to resolve barriers to resumption in the United States,” the association said in a statement.
Carnival Cruise Line had tentatively said it hoped to resume cruising on Aug. 1 with eight ships, though the line said the plan was “contingent on a number of factors." On Monday, the cruise company announced it was canceling all cruises through Sept. 30.
“We have watched with great interest as commerce, travel and personal activities have begun to start back up, and once we do resume service, we will take all necessary steps to ensure the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we bring our ships to in order to maintain public confidence in our business," Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy wrote in a letter to travel agents and guests with bookings. “Nevertheless, we apologize for disrupting your vacation plans and appreciate your patience as we work through these decisions.”
Royal Caribbean International had also said that its goal was to start operations again on Aug. 1 but offered no guarantees. Many lines have canceled specific cruises well past Sept. 15, especially in areas that are prohibiting ship visits. The additional suspension applies to cruise lines that can carry more than 250 people on a ship, which are included in the CDC’s no-sail order.
Some operators have detailed plans for a return to the sea, including measures such as temperature checks, limited occupancy, social distancing on board, extra sanitation and improved air filtration systems. Virgin Voyages, with one ship whose launch has been delayed months already, said it was working to find a rapid test to make sure only those who test negative for covid-19 are allowed on board.
Bari Golin-Blaugrund, a CLIA spokeswoman, said in an email that cruise lines have handed over their plans to the CDC, and that the agency is still considering what criteria must be met for ships to carry passengers again.
“Although we are confident that future cruises will be healthy and safe, and will fully reflect the latest protective measures, we also feel that it is appropriate to err on the side of caution to help ensure the best interests of our passengers and crew members,” the cruise association said in its statement. “The additional time will also allow us to consult with the CDC on measures that will be appropriate for the eventual resumption of cruise operations.”
The CDC supports the industry’s voluntary suspension of operations, spokesman Scott Pauley said in an email Monday. He noted that cruise passengers often come from populations at high risk of severe illness, and that even with reduced numbers of people on a ship, the agency has seen ongoing spread of covid-19 “due to the congregated setting and greater chance of closer physical contact.”
“CDC has continued (and continues) to have regular conversations and emails with the cruise line industry and cruise ship operators, often on a daily basis, as we worked to review response plans submitted by the cruise lines to CDC under the No-Sail Order,” Pauley said in the email. “CDC will continue to evaluate and update our recommendations as the situation evolves.”
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.