CDC plans unchanged as pressure grows over ‘unworkable’ Conditional Sailing Order

The CEO of Royal Caribbean has called the Conditional Sailing Order unworkable, while the CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association has said it doesn’t reflect the advances being made in other markets, but the CDC says it has no plans to revise the framework.

The CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order replaced the No Sail Order in October, 2020 and was welcomed by the industry at the time, but many cruise industry figures are now calling the regulations outdated given the evolving nature of the pandemic.

The CDC's Conditional Sailing Order assesses cruise line's ships on a ship-by-ship basis.

The CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order assesses cruise line’s ships on a ship-by-ship basis.

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With vaccinations being rolled out at a record pace in the US, UK and other cruise markets, such as Israel and the UAE, many in the industry feel the strict regulations as stipulated in the Conditional Sailing Order no longer apply.

Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, said the Conditional Sailing Order’s four-phased approach in particular was no longer workable.

“It calls for a four-phased (approach), but four-and-a-half months into that, we are still in phase one and we still don’t know what will be required for phase two. That is pretty unworkable, for us and the CDC,” he said.

Richard Fein, CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises

“We think that that the science has moved ahead of the Conditional Sailing Order,” he added, pointing to the thus-far successful roll out of vaccines in the US and UK, and the fact that in Europe, the cruise industry has carried more than 350,000 guests safely since last summer.

Royal Caribbean Group, which relaunched cruises from Singapore aboard Quantum of the Seas, has carried more than 100,000 guests, with only 10 COVID-19 cases reported and no outbreaks aboard the ship.

Kelly Craighead, President and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), also referenced Europe in calling on the CDC to change its approach to allowing the resumption of cruises from US ports.

Several cruise lines including Costa have relaunched cruises out of Italy.

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“Over the past eight months, a highly-controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific – with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets,” said Craighead. “These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19.”

Craighead called on the CDC to “allow for the planning of a phased resumption of cruise operations from U.S. ports by the beginning of July”.

The CDC for its part, however, has dug in, insisting that it has no plans to change the Conditional Sailing Order and that it will remain in place until at least November 1st, 2021.

It’s not known how close to Phase 2 the CDC currently is, and cruise lines remain on hold for U.S. operations until further technical guidance from the CDC is released. As a result, many cruise lines have begun to plan fly-cruise seasons homeporting in the Caribbean.

The decision on when to allow cruises to resume from the US is not solely up to the CDC, according to statements made by CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky during a recent Senate Committee hearing.

Rochelle P. Walensky, Director, CDC

In the Senate HELP Committee hearing entitled “Examining Our COVID-19 Response: An Update from Federal Officials” held on March 18, 2021, Walensky said that the process of moving from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the Conditional Sailing Order was a multi-agency decision.

“We have provided technical assistance on the Conditional Sail where we’ve provided a four-phased strategy for how we could get sail open. We’re in phase 1 of that, moving towards phase 2,” she said.

“This is an inter-agency decision, it is not a decision solely up to the CDC so I would be remiss if I would do that by myself because the decision is not solely up to us,” she added.

When asked what other agencies were involved in the decision, the CDC Director said the Department of Transport and “several other” departments were part of the process.

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