Florida’s Idled Cruise Industry Can Set Sail Again on November 1

Photo: Ed Judkins / Pixabay

The cruise industry has been fine-tuning a public health proposal to resume sailing. Florida’s idled $8-billion-a-year cruise industry can set sail again November 1 under a plan endorsed by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. President Donald Trump’s administration blocked the CDC’s pending order to keep cruise ships docked until mid-February on Tuesday, opting to go with a Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) plan that outlines a gradual resumption of sailing Nov. 1, starting with voyages containing crew members posing as passengers.

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have convened a panel of former U.S. health officials and top infectious disease specialists to propose a plan for ensuring safety on cruise ships. Last week, the panel submitted their 60-plus-page report of recommendations to the CDC. It includes proposals for companies to conduct entry testing for all passengers and crew, daily temperature checks, mask recommendations and more.

With U.S. cruise lines shut down since March 24, the nation’s second-largest maritime industry has been removed from the equation for six months. Fourteen cruise lines employ nearly 150,000 state residents and operate 63 ships out of five Florida ports, where more than 11.5 million passengers spent $1.05 billion ashore in 2016, according to CLIA.

CLIA’s plan extends its April voluntary “no sail” order that expires Thursday by one month and is based on recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel, established by major cruise lines and led by former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt and former U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

A September 24 report by U.S. Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis Sola said Florida has lost $3.2 billion in economic activity and 49,500 local jobs that pay $2.3 billion in wages as a result of the suspension of cruising in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 60 percent of all U.S. cruise embarkations occur in Florida.

Florida’s busiest port, PortMiami, welcomed 6.8 million cruise passengers in 2019, supporting 30,000 local jobs, generating $5.8 billion in economic value and paying $188 million in taxes, according to Sola. PortMiami estimates it will lose at least $55 million this year. The cruise industry has struggled to manage the coronavirus pandemic since the start, when the Diamond Princess, part of the cruise giant Carnival Corporation, moored in the Japanese harbor of Yokohama, Japan, amid an outbreak that eventually infected 712 people and killed nine of them. 

Even as warnings were issued about the dangers of cruise-ship travel, passengers kept boarding and ships kept sailing. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, whose failures were specifically cited in the C.D.C. document, released statements in response to the order that did not specifically address the allegations. Norwegian said it canceled trips through September, as well as cruises embarking from or calling on ports in Canada in October. 

Royal Caribbean said it would suspend operations through September to comply with the order.