The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended a no-sail order effectively banning cruising around American waters until the end of October. All of which has meant that major operators – including Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line and Princess Cruises – have been forced to scrap almost the entire 2020 season.
And cruise bosses have had enough. Frank Del Rio, the chief executive of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, told Miami-Dade County Tourism and the Ports Committee: “The cruise industry is close to devastation [...] we've had to raise $20 billion' to stay afloat.
Watch: How cruise lines are rethinking pretty much everything
“We've got to get to work [...] enough is enough. It's been more than six months. We as an industry and society have learned a lot about how to live beside Covid.”
The operator – which counts Regent Seven Seas, Oceania Cruises and the eponymous line among its brands – joined forces with cruise rival Royal Caribbean Group, also parent company to Celebrity Cruises and Azamara, to set up a Healthy Sail Panel. This panel comprises professionals with experience in public health, infectious disease, biosecurity, hospitality and maritime operations, and is due to submit its industry-wide recommendations for cruise lines on public health within the next week.
Del Rio said: “We believe our protocols are the most robust in the industry. We are so happy to see MSC and Aida and Costa cruise in Europe. It proves it can be done. I am 100 per cent certain our protocols are second to none and it will be safe to cruise from America."
Rick Sasso, chairman of MSC Cruises USA, echoed the arguments of Del Rio. Speaking about MSC Cruises’ successful restart in Europe, Sasso said: “Our experience to date shows that cruising can be done safely, the protocols we put in place for our first cruises in Europe are working effectively."
Passengers onboard MSC Cruises flagship, MSC Grandiosa, which has been operating safely in the Mediterranean since August 16, are subjected to a swab test before embarking – and anyone who tests positive for the virus, or shows symptoms, is denied boarding. Meanwhile, passengers are only allowed ashore via a guided MSC excursion, with independent exploration of ports prohibited – as one family discovered to their peril.
A second MSC ship, the slightly smaller MSC Magnifica, will resume sailings out of Italy on October 29. Buoyed by his line’s triumphant European return, Sasso said: “We are ready to work with authorities in the US directly to plan for a safe and successful start of cruising in the US.”
Del Rio pointed out that for many the damage caused by the US no sail order is worse than the virus itself: “[It’s] affecting the lives of thousands of employees, their families and their children. And yet we see airlines flying.
“I want someone to tell me how it's possible that Covid-19 doesn't occur on an airplane when you're sitting four inches away from a person… It's unconscionable what's happened to the cruise industry. We've been quiet for too long.”
Michael Bayley, the president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International concurred: “It's time that the cruise industry returned to service, and we're ready.”