The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have extended a ‘no-sail order’ for cruise ships by 100 days or until COVID-19 is no longer considered a public health emergency.
The extension followed a CDC ruling that passengers or crew arriving in the US from a cruise ship will no longer be able to board commercial flights.
The share price of Carnival Corp. fell sharply on Monday, after the cruise operator announced, in response to the CDC ruling, that it has cancelled all North American cruise itineraries through 26 June. Carnival also cancelled all trips out of New York until the end of this year.
Cayman first banned cruise ships starting 16 March.
The first ship scheduled to sail to Cayman is now the Carnival Vista, which is set to depart Galveston, Texas, on 27 June. The Carnival Paradise and the Carnival Sensation are set to leave from Tampa and Miami, respectively, on 29 June.
While the CDC ruling eliminates any ambiguity for US cruise schedules, it is not certain that these international travel dates are realistic. Even if US-based cruise lines were allowed to sail again in US waters when the CDC order expires, it is not clear that they will be allowed to land in Cayman.
At a press conference last week, Premier Alden McLaughlin called earlier cruise schedules indicating a return to Cayman by the end of May “premature”.
The CDC said, despite the existing restrictions on foreign travel, cruise ship travel markedly increases the risk and impact of the COVID-19 outbreak within the US.
At least 10 cruise ships reported crew or passengers that either tested positive or experienced respiratory symptoms or influenza-like illnesses.
The CDC estimates there are approximately 100 cruise ships at sea off the US East Coast, West Coast, and Gulf Coast, with nearly 80,000 crew on board. In addition, there are 20 cruise ships at port or anchorage in the US with known or suspected COVID-19 cases among the crew who remain on board.
“There are several public health concerns when crew members become ill while on board the cruise ships,” the CDC said. “As we have seen with the passenger illness response on cruise ships, safely evacuating, triaging, and repatriating cruise ship crew has involved complex logistics, incurs financial costs at all levels of government, and diverts resources away from larger efforts to suppress or mitigate COVID-19.
“The addition of further COVID-19 cases from cruise ships also places healthcare workers at substantial increased risk.”
The CDC order requires that cruise lines develop operational plans to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and include medical screening of passengers and crew, as well as the training of crew members to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and deal with any outbreaks on board.
The no-sail order remains in effect for at least 100 days, unless the US secretary of health officially declares COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency or the CDC director rescinds or modifies the order.
Cancelled trips are a major drain on the cash reserves of the main cruise lines – Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. Carnival is offering passengers between US$300 and US$600 added credit to future bookings, if they do not request a cash refund. Royal Caribbean is offering 125% credit on new bookings to avoid a full refund.
Last week, Carnival revealed in a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that support of the industry is unwavering, with almost half of the passengers who saw their cruise cancelled choosing to sail with the cruise line at a later date.
When contacted by Carnival, 45% of passengers opted for added credit to a future sailing, and 55% requested a refund.