Execs Say US Cruises Could Restart, Based on Success in Europe

Cruise industry stakeholders in the U.S. are optimistic that cruising’s largely successful restart in Europe bodes well for the American cruise industry.

Cruise executives have cited this European precedent in their efforts to get the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lift its ‘No Sail Order,’ which is currently set to expire on September 30, but which many expect will be extended following the agency’s review. The deadline to respond to the CDC’s request for public input about the potential resumption of large- and small-ship cruising is just days away, reported Travel Weekly.

MSC Cruises and Italian line, Costa Cruises, resumed activities in August and early September at limited passenger capacities, with strict health and safety measures in place and starting with one ship each. Both now plan on launching second ships to continue sailing the Mediterranean.

Such smaller-ship operations as Hurtigruten, SeaDream Yacht Club and Ponant Cruises had already been operating in Europe, beginning as early as June. Among them, only Hurtigruten reported a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak, which occurred in August and forced the company to suspend sailing on all three of its ships.

Hurtigruten’s CEO, Daniel Skjeldam, issued an apology and attributed the onboard infection to weaknesses in the cruise line’s internal processes. It turned out that crew members from the Phillippines had been COVID-tested prior to departing their country, but weren’t re-tested upon arrival in Norway, prior to boarding the ship, and infected individual(s) must have slipped through.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio told Miami-Dade County officials earlier this month that the cruise industry’s recent successes in Europe ought to prove to the CDC that U.S. cruise lines could also safely resume service, as long as the proper protocols are in place.

“We are so happy to see MSC and Aida and Costa cruise in Europe,” Del Rio said. “It proves it can be done. I am 100% certain our protocols are second to none and it will be safe to cruise from America.”

Rick Sasso, chairman of MSC Cruises USA, told lawmakers that the European arm of MSC Cruises, “shows that cruising can be done safely. The protocols we put in place for our first cruises in Europe are working effectively.” He pointed to the “close collaboration” of MSC and European authorities as a key element of coming up with effective protocols and standards. “We are ready to work with authorities in the U.S. directly to plan for a safe and successful start of cruising in the U.S.,” Sasso said.

Cruise executives and health experts have also postulated that cruise lines are now better prepared to identify and isolate infected passengers, and, in at least four cases, one passenger had come down with COVID-19, but the virus didn’t spread to anyone else onboard.

“That ability to contain an infection if one occurs on a ship is critical,” Dr. Jewel Mullen, an associate dean at the University of Texas Austin’s Dell Medical School and an advisor to Carnival Corp. “I think it’s really encouraging to see no subsequent spread.” She opined that a successful cruising restart would depend upon a combination of testing, onboard protocols (and the willingness to observe them) and what passengers do during the fourteen days before and after a cruise, even if they are asymptomatic.

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