Cruise industry executives held a virtual meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield, and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar late Friday to discuss proposals to resume cruise operations.
Also attending the meeting was former Utah Governor and HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt co-chair of the joint Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Healthy Sail Panel whose 74-step plan for resumption of operations has been adopted industry-wide.
Attending the meeting on behalf of the industry were: Arnold Donald, CEO, Carnival Corporation; Frank Del Rio, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings; Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group; Thomas Malzoum, President, Disney Signature Experience; Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman, MSC Cruises.
The meeting had originally been slated for October 2, but was rescheduled it President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19.
According to a readout from the White House, Vice President Pence gave a brief overview of the current state of the No Sail Order, which has been extended through October 31, and highlighted the “shared goal of reopening the maritime economy, with a focus on the cruise line industry safely sailing again.” Pence thanked Governor Leavitt and the cruise line executives for conducting an industry-driven effort that focuses on the health outcomes.
HHS Secretary Azar and CDC Director Redfield touched on their commitment to the collaborative effort that produced the Healthy Sail Panel’s 74 recommendations, and the Federal government’s support of the industry to safely and responsibly sail again, but cautioned that the cruise industry would have to backstop their venture to resume operations.
Prioritizing cruise safety
Governor Leavitt provided an overview of how the Healthy Sail Panel approached their report and recommendations and emphasized that the industry was driven by producing real solutions without economic restraints, which did not result in market participants competing on safety. Leavitt indicated that the output needed to be practical and prioritized safety.
According to the White House read out, the industry executives “thanked the Trump Administration for its collaborative approach and support, and stressed that this process and proposal introduces accountability and standards that will ensure cruise ship passengers are in a safe and healthy environment.”
The proposal will now be presented to the Task Force in order to provide a recommendation to President Donald J. Trump with regard to next steps on the CDC’s No Sail Order.
Cruise operations could resume in 2020
Speaking last week at the Seatrade Virtual Cruise conference, cruise executives expressed confidence that cruises could begin to return to North American waters this year even though they have cancelled cruises through to the beginning of December.
“Yes, we will be sailing sometime this year,” said Carnival CEO Arnold Donald, who heads the world’s largest cruise line. “On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll say a 4.9 in terms of optimism.”
Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Frank Del Rio said that while a return to cruising was not a race to be the first out of the gate and that the industry would be back on water until it was 100 percent safe to do so, a return was “coming soon.”
“Whether it’s December 22 or January 3, I think we’re in the ballpark,” Del Rio said. “If a number of things go our way, I think we could be sailing soon.”
One of the things the CDC will be looking at closely is the continued restart in Europe, where through the use of double buffer testing cruises have been operating for the last couple of months without any outbreaks of COVID-19.
Looking at Europe’s restart
MSC Cruises executive president Pierfrancesco Vago noted to Italian media that the company’s flagship MSC Grandiosa is currently on its eighth voyage since the restart and has already carried some 16,000 passengers without any COVID-19 outbreaks.
Cruises have also resumed in locations in Asia, with both Genting and Royal Caribbean being given permission by the Singapore authorities to operate ‘cruises to nowhere’ for Singaporean residents.