MIAMI — Citing continued COVID-19 infections and deaths on cruise ships, federal health authorities are halting cruise operations in U.S. waters until the COVID-19 pandemic is over and requiring the industry to implement a plan to immediately mitigate outbreaks on ships.
In a new “no-sail” order issued late Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the industry has not done a sufficient job to stop the spread of COVID-19 on its ships and is relying too much on U.S. resources to treat ill passengers and crew.
The “no-sail” order will remain in effect for at least 100 days or until the Department of Health and Human Services lifts its COVID-19 public health emergency declaration.
The industry must submit its plan to tackle ongoing outbreaks to the CDC and U.S. Coast Guard and implement it by April 16.
“As operators of non-U.S. flagged vessels sailing in international waters, it is imperative that the cruise line industry and cruise lines themselves take responsibility for the care of their crew and do not further tax limited U.S. resources during a public health emergency,” the order said.
Although no passengers have boarded cruise ships since the industry halted operations on March 13, there are still around 100 ships off the U.S. coasts with nearly 80,000 crew onboard waiting for the pandemic to pass to resume cruising.
Six cruise ships are still at sea with passengers on board, trying to find a place to dock, and four ships that have passengers on them are in ports still trying to disembark people, according to Cruise Line International Association, the industry’s lobbying group.
Thursday’s CDC order requires cruise companies to explain how they will sanitize ships, report the number of COVID-19 cases daily, test for COVID-19, staff ships with enough doctors and equipment to prevent the need to transfer people to land hospitals, privately transport critically ill people and repatriate non-essential workers.
The CDC also asks the cruise companies to use their own ships to assist ones that have outbreaks by treating some as “hospital ships” for the infected, “quarantine ships” for the exposed, and “residential ships” for workers treating the sick.
A previous plan to curb COVID-19 spread at sea submitted by CLIA on April 3 was insufficient, the CDC said in Thursday’s order.
In a statement, CLIA said that the proposals it has submitted have been “far reaching” and the order will cost the U.S. economy $51 billion if it lasts for one year.
“We are … concerned about the unintended consequences of the order in its singling out an industry that has been proactive in its escalation of health and sanitation protocols, including the aforementioned proposals, as well as transparent in its reporting despite numerous challenges beyond the industry’s control,” the statement said.
Cruise ships require at least a skeleton crew to maintain them while they are laid up. Since the industry halted new cruises in mid-March, dozens of crew members have been infected with COVID-19. Many non-essential crew who remain trapped on ships because of travel restrictions say companies have not done enough to protect them from the virus.
In Miami Thursday, seven sick crew members from Carnival Corp.’s Coral Princess ship and two from Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Breakaway — all with COVID-19 symptoms — were evacuated to Miami hospitals, according to a report from the Miami-Dade Emergency Management Office.
Since March 30, at least five crew members with COVID-19 symptoms from Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas have been evacuated at Port Everglades to local hospitals.
A 48-year-old crew member evacuated from Carnival Corp.’s Costa Favolosa cruise ship on March 29 died of COVID-19 at Larkin Community Hospital in Hialeah Saturday.
On March 30, cruise companies extended cruise cancellations into May. Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. canceled cruises through May 11, Norweigan Cruise Line Holdings canceled through Saturday, MSC canceled through May 29, and Disney canceled through April 28.