The cruise line executives will be wondering what steps they will have to take to get their ships sailing from U.S. ports this summer. And rightly so, with only 60 days to go until the start of July, the month most cruise lines have set as their intended start-up month, time is running out.
Everywhere except for cruise ships, people that have been vaccinated can start to get together, and cruise fans are more eager than ever to step foot onboard. The CDC has been adamant that cruises will resume somewhere this summer. Is it just another false promise from the CDC, or will the agency be able to push all cruise lines through the procedures in such a short amount of time?
And more importantly, can the cruise lines be ready on time?
What Timeline Do Cruise Lines Need?
The timeline needed for cruise lines is slightly different today than if we were looking at a restart six months ago. The reason is simply that most cruise lines have been busy pulling ships out of cold and warm layups for the last month. In that aspect, we just have to look at Norwegian Cruise Line and the online series they have been putting out recently.
However, getting a ship out of layup and back into service is not as easy as it sounds. Just think about your car that runs beautifully today but will need some service if you don’t drive it for more than a year—the same counts for the ships.
Also Read: When Will Cruises Resume in 2021?
Systems and machinery will need some significant overhauling and servicing before they can be put back into action. Cruise ships are built to run 24/7, 365 days a year. So the maintenance part will be something that the cruise lines will focus on first of all.
After this, there is the crew to think about. Deck and engine crew members will be on board for the most part already, and if the ship were in a warm layup, they would have been in regular rotation.
The same does not count for the thousands of crew members that work in the galley’s, restaurants, hotel services, entertainment teams, etc. These crew members will all need flights, vaccinations, and quarantine periods.
Also, training in the new covid procedures that cruise lines are developing is a vital part of the CDC guidelines. And let’s not forget the mountain of paperwork the crew will need to comply with within their home countries, which usually takes several weeks to complete as well.
And let’s not forget about the unfortunate news that Indian crew members have been effectively blocked from joining ships due to the Indian travel restrictions most countries have been putting in place. This could potentially affect many cruise lines.
All these measures and scenarios add up. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings President Frank Del Rio’s initial estimate of 90 days suddenly looks like an ideal case scenario. Because let’s not forget, we are still waiting for the CDC.
What Do The Cruise Lines Need From The CDC?
There were four stages in the initial Conditional Sailing Order, which the CDC amended to five stages at the end of last month (In fact, the agency changed phase 2 to phase 2A and phase 2B). It effectively bought the CDC time while placating the industry for a few weeks to mull over the measures that were announced.
Currently, we are in phase 2A. This means the cruise industry has to cover routine testing of the crew; port, medical, and quarantine housing agreements approved by port and local health authorities; and embarking nonessential crew with testing and 14-day quarantine.
Once the cruise lines have complied with the above, they will need to get permission from the CDC to make the next steps. These include test sailings, more permissions, and more paperwork to complete. Count several weeks for these procedures to be completed.
Is the end is July a reasonable timeline right now? No, it’s not. Every day the CDC does not take action in reopening the cruise industry; this timeline becomes more and more unlikely.
Worth Reading: Why the CDC’s Silence Puts the U.S. Cruise Industry on Edge
Yes, the cruise lines are crewing the ships, but manning and provisioning ships is only 50% of what needs to happen. The other 50% comes from the CDC, and that waiting game has been played for almost six months now since the CSO was released.
Can’t They Do it a Bit Faster?
In the meantime, the cruise lines have not received the information they have been asking the CDC for: What about letting ships sail with 100% vaccinated guests only for the time being? It is a question that will cut short the entire procedure list massively.
If cruise lines can sail and be treated the same as the hospitality and entertainment industry in the United States, the cruise lines could reopen much sooner.
It might not satisfy everyone, especially those opposed to getting the vaccine right now, but it would save the cruise industry millions, if not billions. It would allow cruises to sail, as intended by NCL, on the most fitting day of all, Independence Day, July 4.