The second one. In April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance on Phase 2 of the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), which outlines the steps cruise lines should take before and during the resumption of cruise operations from U.S. ports. The first phase of the CSO ended on October 30, 2020, and no additional guidance for cruise ships was provided until this week’s announcement.
Phase 2 consists primarily of technical guidance to cruise lines on arrangements with local port and health authorities, requirements for loading and unloading processes, instructions to be followed in the event of an outbreak on board a ship leaving the United States, etc.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the new and notable elements of the latest CDC scheme.
CDC considers cruise ships equivalent to student housing
The CDC classifies cruise ships as residential collection sites according to its COVID-19 guidelines. This puts cruise ships in the same category as apartments, condominiums, student housing, dormitories for national park employees, and domestic violence shelters. This classification would require a 14-day quarantine in the event of a confirmed or suspected outbreak on board a ship, and any restrictions that apply to other types of accommodation in this category would likely apply to cruise ships.
Limited capacity, limited flexibility and no sharing
The agreements between the port and the health authority should include a list of cruise ships that must leave the port, i.e. new arrangements must be made before the ship is moved or replaced.
If a port allows more than one cruise line to operate from its facilities, consideration should be given to the number of ships and the maximum number of passengers and crew allowed on each ship so that local medical facilities are not overwhelmed in the event of a simultaneous outbreak on several ships and/or a sudden increase in local cases.
Under the technical guidelines, each cruise line must negotiate its own agreement with the appropriate local port and health authorities; the CDC does not allow multiple cruise lines to negotiate a single agreement, meaning that the Cruise Line Industry Association or any other trade group or alliance (e.g., Healthy Sails Group) cannot negotiate on behalf of the cruise lines or the industry as a whole.
Mandatory vaccination for crew members, recommended for passengers and port workers
Crew members must receive a vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization.
Cruise lines should develop proposals for their strategy to provide maximum protection of passengers and crew by vaccines.
Cruise lines must inform passengers of the importance of vaccination against COVID-19, but the CDC does not require that passengers be vaccinated; however, the cruise lines themselves may require vaccination.
Port employees who are in direct contact with passengers are encouraged to be vaccinated. Cruise ships and port operators offer port staff vaccination clinics. But as with passengers, the CDC does not require dockworkers to get the vaccine.
Yes, everyone should wear a mask.
The CDC reminds everyone, including vaccinated passengers and crew, to wear masks aboard ship and in port.
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The embargo on your next cruise is likely to be very different
This is where the technical manual starts to get interesting. The CDC’s requirements for landing and disembarking probably mean three things:
- The planting process will probably be quite different.
- The number of ships that can depart on the same day, even from major ports like Port Miami and Port Everglades, will likely be limited.
- Some smaller ports may not have the means to comply with the requirements without radically altering their terminals and/or their cruise ship call patterns.
The CDC says, in part:
- Cruise lines should adopt procedures to reduce congestion caused by passengers embarking or disembarking on land.
- In addition, lines shall ensure that passengers disembarking and passengers embarking do not remain in the same enclosed or semi-enclosed areas (e.g. aisles, waiting areas in terminals, check-in areas) for a period of 12 hours. This will be a big problem in some of the cruise facilities and smaller ports.
Many newer, modern terminals, including Port Miami, Port Everglades, and Port Canaveral, have two walkways and separate people flows that tend to separate arriving and departing passengers. But each of these huge ports has only a handful of facilities. Many terminals have only one gateway or use partially the same zones for arriving and departing passengers. To meet the 12-hour requirement, passenger service would have to be adjusted, check-in areas might have to be created outside the port (the Broward County Convention Center serves as a remote arrival and check-in option at the nearby Port of Everglades), passengers might have to disembark at the ship’s wharf, which could complicate unloading luggage and loading cargo, or port calls might have to be extended to better separate passengers.
In some small ports, arrival and departure may not take place on the same day. This means that a cruise ship can arrive on Saturday to disembark and only embark and disembark passengers on Sunday. This could disrupt cruise schedules, which typically include a one-day rotation, and increase dock costs for cruise lines.
Companies and ports should prepare for the worst case scenario and other unforeseen events
Ports should prepare a contingency plan for the worst case scenario where multiple ships encounter an outbreak of COWID-19.
Cruise lines should make arrangements to limit the need for emergency evacuations by sea, either for VIC-19 or other medical emergencies, and if absolutely necessary for the patient’s health, private arrangements should be made, either by tender, charter boat or private air transport, to avoid reliance on public facilities and services.
Local hospitals must agree to accept UScases.
Cruise lines must contract with local hospitals and medical facilities in each ship’s home port to accommodate passengers and crew in need of medical care. Funding arrangements should be made with at least two facilities in each port to ensure adequate medical care in the event of a simultaneous local outbreak.
Given the uncertain nature of COPID-19 cases in many metropolitan areas, it is unclear how prepared hospitals and medical facilities would be to hold limited resources for possible use by cruise ship passengers or crew in the event of an outbreak.
In addition, contracts should be negotiated with emergency medical service providers in each port to ensure sufficient capacity to transport passengers or crew members to local hospitals while minimizing the risk of exposure.
There will probably be many empty hotel rooms in.
Cruise lines must contract with one or more shore-based facilities to provide adequate capacity for isolation and quarantine of passengers for up to 14 days in the event of a suspected or confirmed outbreak of COPID 19 on board a ship.
Although the CDC guidelines do not specify specific requirements or percentages, it seems likely that in the event of an outbreak or ship-wide impact, cruise lines would need to allocate sufficient accommodations to match the number of occupied cabins on a given voyage.
Residential units may include hotels, business accommodations, or other facilities that meet these requirements:
- Separate bedrooms, separate bathrooms, a ban on sharing living space with persons who do not belong to the same household, and the possibility of separating infected persons within the household from persons who are known not to be infected.
- Separate ventilation systems shall be provided for all passengers who are not part of the same household.
A security arrangement should be put in place to ensure that no one in quarantine breaches the prescribed isolation or quarantine conditions, and a mechanism should be put in place to immediately inform the health authorities if the traveller attempts to breach these conditions.
In addition, the cruise line must contract with private vehicles to transport passengers from the ship to the accommodations.
These guidelines, the second phase of at least five expected from the CDC, bring the industry one step closer to getting ships out of U.S. ports. But there is no reason to believe that cruises will resume in the near future. There is no guarantee that the cruise lines will be able to conclude the necessary contracts with port and/or medical services, that the logistical difficulties caused by the 12-hour rule can be overcome, or that all this can be done in a cost-effective manner. At that point, U.S. citizens will likely have to fly to Nassau, St. Maarten or Barbados to navigate the Caribbean.
READ MORE: For cruise passengers, vaccination requirements are as follows
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