Royal Caribbean is considering testing for COVID-19, Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley said Monday during a conference call with analysts after parent company Royal Caribbean Group posted a $1.6 billion net loss for the second quarter 2020, amid a global shutdown of operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While Bayley offered no specifics as to how and when testing would take place, his statements led to speculation that pre-embarkation or onboard testing could become part of the Royal Caribbean COVID-19 protocols once the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lifts its no-sail order.
“Testing is part of the thinking, but we have not yet reached a point in our protocols where we’re ready to publish and release for discussion,” Bayley said.
“But it’s very likely that testing will occur. We’re also seeing in discussions with multiple destinations around the world, which is another component of the return to service, particularly as it relates to Caribbean that testing is very much at the front of how people are thinking about protocols for returning.”
Pre-embarkation screening for COVID-19 has been adopted in guidelines issued by the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), however, only crew are required to be tested for the novel coronavirus.
Adventure cruise line Lindblad Expeditions CEO, Sven-Olof Lindblad noted Tuesday while speaking from French Polynesia that authorities there require a PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure for the islands and another four days after arrival.
Bayley’s statements suggest similar double testing could be adopted by the cruise industry, especially if attempts at developing rapid point-of-care COVID-19 testing are successful.
Royal Caribbean to resume China operations in October?
Meanwhile, Bayley said Royal Caribbean could resume cruise operations in China before the end of October.
Asked whether the company’s restart date would depend on the lifting of the CDC no-sail order, or whether it could start sailings elsewhere, Bayley replied: “As you know, we’ve suspended our sailings until the end of October, with two exceptions. One of them is the China operations and also Australia. It may well be possible that we’ll resume operations in China and potentially Australia before the end of October, but it’s uncertain and I’m not making any statements that that’s going to happen but there’s some possibility .. that’s a possibility that may occur.”
Royal Caribbean has bet big on the growing China cruise trend and had been due to debut the Wonder of the Seas, the world’s largest ship, from Shanghai in 2021, but in July it said that work on the first Oasis class ship scheduled to sail the Asia-Pacific market was being suspended indefinitely.
Odyssey of the Seas delayed to 2021
Addressing the issue of ship delays, Jason T. Liberty, Chief Financial Officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises said the company had initially expected to take delivery of five ships between July of 2020 and the end of 2021 but was now only expecting to take delivery of 3 ships during this period.
“This includes the Silver Moon, which is planned to be delivered in October; Royal Caribbean Odyssey of the Seas, which is now scheduled to be delivered in the first quarter of 2021; and Silver Dawn, scheduled to be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2021. All other remaining ships on order are expected to be delayed by an average of 10 months,” Liberty said.
Liberty added that Royal Caribbean was also looking at the possibility of selling older ships.
“…we are evaluating opportunities to to sell ships or to take other actions with ships,” Liberty said. “If we don’t think we have a good plan for that ship, for it to be generating sizable returns or it’s difficult to make it a strategic fit to our brand by modernizing and so forth, we have looked to to to sell the ships.”
Royal Caribbean Group owns four cruise brands: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Silversea and Azamara. It also has a 50 percent in German cruise brand, which began limited return to cruising two weeks ago, but had to suspend one of its journeys after several crew members were diagnosed with COVID-19 and it failed to find sufficient crew for the voyage.