By Ricky Browne
Who needs to fly if you can sail? That may have been the question on the minds of many people dying to escape on holiday. But, anybody who felt unperturbed by the coronavirus ripping through cruise ships, and was planning a bargain cruise of a lifetime to end the year, may now have to think again.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the group that includes the vast majority of global shipping lines, has announced that its members have agreed to extend the suspension of its United States sailing operations for the rest of the year.
The group includes cruise shipping giants like the Royal Caribbean, Princess and Carnival lines. Representing about 95 percent of all global cruise ships, it is the world’s largest cruise industry trade association with representation in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australasia.
The announcement came just as some potential cruise passengers may have thought the way was clear, as the US government — via the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — had lifted its no-sail order a few days before, provided the cruise lines introduced new protocols.
The move came days after both Carnival and Norwegian had extended their halt on cruises until the end of the year. In fact, the industry’s previous suspension expired on the same day that the US government lifted its no-sail order.
Cruise Lines International Association – which includes cruise giants Princess, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean – said that its members have voluntarily opted to maintain the current suspension of cruise operations in the US through the end of the year.
The group said that its members would use the remainder of the year to prepare for the implementation of extensive measures to address COVID-19 safety” with the guidance of public health experts and the CDC.
Although the CDC was allowing cruise ships to resume their voyages in US waters, it wasn’t without restrictions. Under the new requirements, cruise lines would need to test all passengers and crew at the start and finish of all cruises, which were limited to no longer than a week.
Cruise lines would have to have on-board testing facilities, and would have to first run mock-cruises with passengers who would pretend to be sick. They would also have to make arrangements for sick passengers to be isolated on-shore.
“As we continue to plan for a gradual and highly-controlled return of cruise operations in the U.S., CLIA members are committed to implementing stringent measures to address COVID-19 safety, including 100% testing of passengers and crew, expanded onboard medical capabilities, and trial sailings, among many others,” the CLIA said.
The cruise lines had effectively been banned from US waters from March 14th, at a time when cruise ships were seen as one of the main carriers of the coronavirus. The Diamond Princess in Japan, for example, saw each coronavirus-infected passenger spreading the disease to 15 others.
The resulting loss of business has hit the cruise industry hard. The CLIA says that the halting of cruises has cost the industry more than US$25 billion and resulted in some 164,000 people losing thier jobs.
But savvy sea-goers — deprived of their opportunity to sail — may see a silver lining.
Instead of spending on a cruise, they could instead invest that money in cruise industry shares. For those that believe the industry has a bright future, and who can spot which companies have the wherewithal to survive, there could be a serious upside — as the cruise companies have seen their shares lose more than 70 percent of their value.
“In the nearly eight months that cruise operations in the U.S. have been suspended, CLIA members have been diligent in the planning and development of rigorous protocols in the interest of the health and safety of passengers, crew and the communities cruise lines serve. The public health protocols that CLIA members have agreed to adopt have been informed by the recommendations of world-class experts in public health and science, as well as the experiences of CLIA member lines who have resumed sailing in Europe and other parts of the world with approval from local and regional governments,” CLIA said.