The world’s largest cruise companies might require passengers to be tested for COVID-19 before boarding ships and to wear masks while onboard and while visiting tropical destinations, officials said.
The Cruise Line International Association on Monday announced recommendations it planned to make to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in hopes of ensuring the safe return of cruises to U.S. ports.
Kelly Craighead, the association’s CEO, said she hoped the measures, which are informed by precautions being made on cruises that have restarted in Europe, could mean that U.S. cruises resume before 2021.
“Based on what we are seeing in Europe, and following months of collaboration with leading public health experts, scientists and governments, we are confident that these measures will provide a pathway for the return of limited sailings from the U.S. before the end of this year,” Craighead said.
The association represents companies that serve 95 percent of cruise passengers in the world, including the three companies that operate out of the Port of Galveston: Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Disney Cruises.
Cruises in the United States have been postponed until at least the end of October, and that proposed restart date isn’t set in stone. Last week, Disney announced it would go even further and not resume cruises until mid-December.
No cruises have left the Port of Galveston since March 13. The pandemic has canceled more than half the cruises that were planned out of Galveston this year.
Any return to cruising is contingent on the approval of the CDC, which has extended no-sail orders on cruises several times through the year. Monday was the deadline for a public comment period in which the agency sought input on what safe cruising would look like.
Under the association’s plan, all passengers and crew members on cruise ships will be tested for COVID-19 before embarking. The announcement didn’t specify whether passengers would be required to be tested at home before arriving at a cruise terminal, or within the terminal immediately before embarkation.
Passengers will be required to wear masks on board and during on-shore excursions “wherever physical distancing cannot be maintained.”
Ships will be required to set aside cabins for isolating cruise passengers who fall ill, and cruise companies will have to arrange plans with private providers to quarantine people, if needed, as they leave ships, according to the plan.
Cruise industry leaders discussed the announcement during a conference call Monday, according to Cruise Critic, a trade news publication that covers the cruise industry. During that conference call, Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said it likely would take 30 days after cruises are given the go-ahead to begin to restart operations.
There doesn’t appear to be universal agreement over what safe cruising looks like.
A Royal Caribbean spokesman declined to comment on the association’s announcement.
But about the same time as the association’s release, Royal Caribbean published its own recommendations for safe cruising, which it developed in partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line.
Royal Caribbean’s report includes 74 different recommendations.
Unlike the association’s proposal, the Royal Caribbean report suggests that all crew be tested for the virus but that all passengers be screened and only tested if they show symptoms of infection or report evidence of close contact with a COVID-positive person.
Port of Galveston Director Rodger Rees called the association’s announcement an “important step” toward restarting cruises and said he hoped the CDC would respond favorably to the proposal.
Rees also hoped Galveston would be among the first cruise ports to return to business if the agency allows cruises to restart, he said.
“Due to our strategic location and popularity, we hope that Galveston will be among the ports to resume limited sailings before the end of the year,” Rees said. “Once safety protocols and procedures are finalized, we’ll work with cruise lines, local agencies and business partners to be ready.”
What exactly the Port of Galveston would need to do help the cruise companies follow their precautions isn’t yet clear. Rees has said the port could install touchless fixtures and upgraded ventilation systems in its two cruise terminals, among other measures, to help make the buildings safer for passengers.
As of Monday, the port had not started making those upgrades.
The Wharves Board of Trustees, which governs the port, will discuss the expenses, which could be more than $50,000, at its meeting next week, Rees said.