CDC issues Conditional Sail protocol for safe resumption of cruise ship operations as it lifts No Sail order

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has lifted the ‘No Sail’ order that has been in effect since March 14, and issued a detailed set of requirements that will enable cruise ships to safely resume sailing from U.S. ports.

Under the Conditional Sailing Order issued by the CDC on Oct. 30, cruise lines will need to meet strict protocols to assure that the ships are protecting passengers from COVID-19.

The Order applies to passenger operations on cruise ships with the capacity to carry at least 250 passengers in waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

The ‘No Sail’ order was due to expire on Oct. 31, after the CDC previously extended it three times since it was introduced in March. It is unlikely that any major line will return ships to service before Dec. 1, at the earliest, since most lines canceled all ships leaving from the U.S. through November.

The framework allows for a phased resumption of cruise ship operations.

“Considering the continued  spread of COVID-19 worldwide and the increased risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships, a careful approach is needed to safely resume cruise ship passenger operations. CDC is establishing requirements to mitigate the COVID-19 risk to passengers and crew, prevent the further spread of COVID-19 to U.S. communities, and protect public health and safety,” said the CDC in the Executive Summary of the Framework for Conditional Sailing.

“The initial phases will consist of testing and additional safe-guards for crew members,” it continues.

The 40-page framework includes detailed requirements that cruise lines will need to meet. The phased-in resumption of service will also be subject to change based on public health considerations and cruise ship operators’ demonstrated ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk, says the CDC. It also allows for individual cruise lines to progress through phases at variable paces.

Noting that several cruise ship operators have taken steps to improve their public health response to COVID -19, the CDC framework document makes specific mention of the recommendations made by the Healthy Sail Panel gathered by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, as well as the global science summit hosted by the World Travel & Tourism Council and Carnival Corporation.

While considering alternatives to this Conditional Sailing Order, the CDC said: “The current framework represents a tailored approach that was determined to be preferable to the status quo No Sail Order.”

It explained: “…it allows for flexibility where cruise ships have taken the necessary precautions to mitigate risk, while continuing to prohibit passenger operations onboard ships that have failed to implement such precautions.”

Among the recommendations called for, the CDC says it will “ensure cruise ship operators have adequate health and safety protections for crew while these cruise

ship operators build the laboratory capacity needed to test future passengers. Subsequent phases will include simulated voyages to test cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk, certification for ships that meet specific requirements, and a phased return to cruise ship passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew members, and U.S. communities.”

The CDC also says that it anticipates COVID-19 continuing to be present and affecting cruise ship travel.

As part of the initial crew testing phases, the Order additionally contains requirements for: (1) shore-side COVID-19 laboratory screening testing of all crew currently onboard; (2) onboard diagnostic testing capabilities for symptomatic travelers (crew and future passengers); (3) shoreside COVID-19 laboratory screening testing of all newly embarking crew; and (4) continued compliance by cruise ship operators with their complete, accurate, and acknowledged No Sail Order Response Plans.