No cruise ships to operate until public health emergency ends

BAR HARBOR — The federal government is instructing cruise ships not to sail until the coronavirus public health emergency is over, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced late Thursday.

Federal and state agencies have been doing too much of the work of responding to passenger illness on cruise ships, officials said, and those government resources are urgently needed elsewhere during the pandemic crisis.

The No Sail Order will remain in effect until the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ current declaration of a public health emergency Covid-19 expires, until the CDC rescinds or modifies the order, or for 100 days, whichever is soonest. The Bar Harbor Town Council this week extended its suspension of cruise ship visitation through June.

“Safely evaluating, triaging, and repatriating cruise ship crew has involved complex logistics, incurs financial costs at all levels of government, and diverts resources away from larger efforts to suppress or mitigate Covid-19,” a CDC press release states.

“The addition of further Covid-19 cases from cruise ships also places healthcare workers at substantial increased risk.”

The CDC rejected an industry plan released April 3 for how to care for onboard crew while ships are idle, saying the cruise lines “must go further to reduce industry reliance on government and shoreside hospital resources.”

In a statement issued Friday in response to the order, industry group Cruise Lines International Association said the cruise industry is a target “because of its high profile.”

“What is different about the cruise industry is the very stringent reporting requirements applicable to vessels that do not apply to comparable venues on land where the spread of communicable disease is just as prevalent,” the statement reads. “It would be a false assumption to connect higher frequency and visibility in reporting to a higher frequency of infection.”

And, the group argued, were the No Sail Order to remain in effect for a year, it could mean a $51 billion “total economic impact loss.”

Last month, a 30-day voluntary suspension of operations was announced by Cruise Lines International Association for its member lines. The following day, the CDC issued a 30-day No Sail Order ordered for all ships.

But, it takes time to get ships back to port and passengers and crew safely home. That work continues.

“Currently, there are approximately 100 cruise ships remaining at sea off the East Coast, West Coast, and Gulf Coast, with nearly 80,000 crew onboard,” the CDC news release stated. Another 20 ships currently at port or at anchor have known or suspected cases of the virus among the crew on board.

Last week the Coast Guard issued a press release saying that the April 2 offloading of more than 1,200 passengers from the cruise ships Zaandam and Rotterdam in Port Everglades, Fla., “combined with one remaining disembarkation being coordinated, represents the processing of more than 120 vessels in the last three weeks to remove 250,000 passengers from cruise ships due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Since March 7 the Coast Guard has participated in 31 medivac transports for critically ill passengers, according to the release.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.
Liz Graves

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