Cruise lines are closely watching the CDC’s No Sail Order extensions and deadlines, cancelling cruises up to a month after the revolving deadline because of the difference between a warm lay-up and cold lay-up.
The world’s mainstream cruise lines operating out of the US have been cancelling cruises up to a month past the extension date for the CDC’s ongoing No Sail Order, because in the words of Norwegian Cruise Line’s president, returning a ship to service isn’t as easy as “turning on a light switch”.
According to Frank Del Rio, President & CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, it takes at least 60 days to get a cruise ship ready to resume service, especially when a cruise line’s entire fleet has been laid up for so long.
It’s now six months since the world’s cruise lines were forced to suspend operations due to the coronavirus pandemic, with most ships in cold lay-up, and others being operated by a skeleton crew.
“It takes time to stand up a ship,” Del Rio said in a panel discussion with Cruise Industry News. “It’s not [like] turning on a light switch.”
Del Rio added that crew need to be brought back on-board, with many of them having returned to their home countries in various regions of the world.
With ongoing travel restrictions, COVID-testing requirements and limited flights, repatriating crew back to their ships will likely be as difficult a task as getting them home in the first place.
In addition, numerous new onboard technologies need to be installed, such as advanced air filters, hygiene stations, temperature monitors and quarantine facilities, while crew will also need to undergo training to adhere to new health and safety protocols.
“It is literally impossible to operate in the month of November,” said Del Rio. “We are looking at post November as a potential start date if everything else comes along.”
Norwegian Cruise Line was one of the first cruise line’s to begin putting its fleet into cold lay-up to preserve cash-flow.
A ship in warm or hot lay-up is essentially kept running in all respects except that it isn’t carrying passengers. Most of the engineering, navigation and other operations departments remain fully staffed and the machinery, lifesaving equipment and navigational equipment are all well-kept and up to date.
This means the ship can be brought back into service quickly. When a ship is placed in cold lay-up, however, most of the mechanical systems are taken offline, with just the bare essentials left online to preserve the ship, such as air-conditioning to prevent humidity and rot. The crew is also vastly reduced, with only a few engineers and officers to sail it in the event of an emergency.
After a cold lay-up of several months, a cruise ship also needs to be re-certified by its classification society, the flag state where it is registered, and by the authorities in the port state where it will operate (in this case the US Coastguard).
It was for these reasons that Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings this week announced a continuation of its suspension for three brands – Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises – until at least November 30th, 2020.
The recently extended No Sail Order from the CDC meanwhile will expire at the end of October. There are signs, however, that the cruise industry may soon be allowed to resume cruises, following the same measures put in place for the limited resumption in Europe.
Royal Caribbean is said to be calling employees back to work in South Florida, and is also rumored to be planning test cruises with crew posing as passengers.
The White House’s Coronavirus Taskforce is reportedly considering allowing cruises to resume, despite the CDC wanting to extend the No Sail Order into next year.
Some cruise lines, such as Celebrity Cruises, are repositioning ships in apparent expectation of a return to service, although according to Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald, the dialogue on this is ongoing.
“(We are) collaboratively coming up with what makes sense to operate in best interests of public health,” Donald said during the same panel discussion.
Doland said cruise executives were collaborating with various government authorities, and there has been a lot of work by all companies to be prepared to resume cruises in the US.
Executives from the big four US cruise lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC) were meant to meet with officials at the White House last week, but those plans were disrupted by US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he had COVID-19.
Although Donald didn’t say if or when a new meeting might take place, he said he was optimistic the industry was in a position to collaborate with the CDC and current White House administration to resume cruising in the United States this year.