For the first time in nearly two months on Thursday, there were no cruise ships in Galveston. There were no cruise ships idling off the coast of Texas, either.
Royal Caribbean hasn’t announced when its ships will return to Galveston or when it plans to resume cruises from the Port of Galveston. Earlier this week, Carnival announced it planned to return its cruises to Galveston on Aug. 1.
On Wednesday, Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas, one of the six ships that had berthed on and off at the port since March, started sailing for CocoCay, a private island in the Bahamas.
Enchantment of the Sea’s departure means no cruise companies are using Texas’ only cruise port as a parking place during the coronavirus pandemic.
Two other Royal Caribbean ships, the Liberty of the Seas and the Majesty of the Sea, left Galveston earlier in the week.
Three Carnival Cruise Line ships, the Vista, Dream and Freedom, left the port two weeks ago.
The ships all have headed to similar destinations: islands in the eastern Caribbean or anchorage points off Florida, where they will begin the work of finally repatriating thousands of the crew members back to their home countries.
“We’re trying to get everybody home,” said Jonathan Fishman, a spokesman for Royal Caribbean. “It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare.”
This week’s movement of the Royal Caribbean ships was spurred by an agreement between the company and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which required that cruise companies guarantee crew members won’t use public transportation, public airport terminals, rental cars or restaurants on their way home from a ship.
The CDC’s stipulations would make cruise company executives face criminal penalties if rules were broken, which caused Royal Caribbean executives to balk.
“The CDC will only allow us to disembark crew members if company executives, myself included, are willing to attest — subject to criminal penalties including imprisonment — that we will not use any public transportation and that each crew member will comply with certain conditions after disembarking the ships,” Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley said in a letter to employees earlier this week. “We are happy to do all the things they requested, but the criminal penalties gave us (and our lawyers) pause.”
In recent days, Royal Caribbean and Carnival have released details about how they intended to return crew members to their home countries. Some of the work will be done by the cruise ships physically sailing crew members home.
Carnival Dream, normally berthed in Galveston, will sail from the Bahamas to South Africa, Indonesia and the Philippines to get people back home, the company said.
Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas will sail to Miami, where they will temporarily hold Filipino and Indonesian crew members until they can be taken to land and flown home, the company said.
Hundreds of crew members in early April were released off ships in the Port of Galveston, where they boarded buses bound for an airport in New Orleans to be flown home.
Officials at the time said they anticipated more transfers from Galveston-based ships.
After the CDC extended a no-sail order on April 10, the number of crew member disembarkations allowed from ships around the country significantly decreased, however.
Only one person, a U.S. citizen, was allowed to disembark a Galveston-based cruise ship between April 15 and May 7, according to the CDC.
On April 28, the Port of Galveston reported there were more than 4,300 crew members aboard the six ships that had been berthed locally.