The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should reconsider allowing cruise lines to resume operations in July, as the industry had asked.

The Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group representing about 95 percent of the global market, said last month the industry by early July could resume operations safely.

That position was supported by the experiences of cruise lines already operating in other nations, the trade group argued.

“Over the past eight months, a highly controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific — with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets,” Kelly Craighead, the association’s president and CEO, said in a letter to the CDC.

“These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19. Additional sailings are planned in the Mediterranean and Caribbean later this spring and summer.”

The association argued fewer than 50 cases of COVID transmission had been reported among those 400,000 passengers, a rate far lower than achieved by any other mode of transportation.

The association didn’t say it, but there are a few fairly obvious contradictions in the CDC’s hard line against cruise lines operating in the United States.

One is many other forms of mass transportation are operating. Airlines are operating, for example, and apparently there’s much variation about how hard carriers are working to enforce COVID safety protocols. Some seem serious about it, others not so much.

It’s hard to argue that sailing on a large cruise ship is inherently risker than being sealed for several hours in an aluminum cigar with recirculated air.

Likewise, cruising seems no more risky than being in the stands at Minute Maid Park with a few thousand other screaming fans, as happened Thursday night in Houston.

In other words, the hard line against cruise lines seems more arbitrary than practical and necessary.

The quickest fix for this problem might be for cruise lines to require proof of vaccination from adult passengers, which some lines already are doing aboard vessels departing from Caribbean ports. Vaccination requirements have support among cruise-line customers, according to a survey by the website Cruise Critic. The survey of 3,000 frequent cruisers found 81 percent supported vaccination requirements, according to Cruise Critic.

That situation is complicated by moves among states such as a Texas and Florida to ban vaccine passports, which is a loaded term describing a requirement to prove a person has been vaccinated.

The executive order Gov. Greg Abbott issued Tuesday wouldn’t prevent cruise lines operating in Texas from requiring proof of vaccinations, according to the governor’s office.

“Governor Abbott respects our state’s business community and does not believe government should unnecessarily interfere with the free market,” press secretary Renae Eze said.

“Like the old adage ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service,’ private businesses have every right to determine how to conduct and manage their business — the same as with requiring patrons to wear masks,” she said. “Only private and public entities that receive taxpayer funding are prohibited from requiring vaccine passports.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order apparently would prevent cruise lines from requiring proof, however, according to some reports.

Florida’s ban on vaccination requirements is why the CDC in its most recent set of guidelines didn’t require cruise lines to demand proof of vaccinations, according to The New York Times.

Part of the tacit justification for singling out the cruise industry with especially strict treatment might be misconception about necessity. But while nobody has to take a pleasure cruise, there’s nothing frivolous about the industry in places where it operates.

The cruise industry supported nearly 450,000 American jobs and contributed more than $55.5 billion to the U.S. economy annually before the pandemic, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

“Based on economic modeling by research firm BREA, more than 300,000 jobs have been lost in the United States due to the suspension of cruises,” the trade group argues.

“The majority of those impacted are independent business owners or individuals employed by small- to medium-sized businesses — including travel agents, taxi drivers, port employees, baggage handlers and longshoremen, as well as airline, hotel and restaurant workers.”

The bottom line is that nobody has to board a cruise ship. The cruise lines should be allowed to operate under the rules they think best, even if that means requiring proof of vaccination, and Americans should be allowed to board the ships — or not — as they think best.

• Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith: 409-683-5206; michael.smith@galvnews.com​.

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(7) comments

Stephanie Martin

I whole heartedly agree that cruises should start back!

Dan Freeman

UK will begin domestic cruises May 17, International probably soon after.

Chuck DiFalco

Mr. Smith, thank you for calling out the CDC as a group of lockdown hardliners that have been helping to destroy workers' livelihoods and business viability in the travel industry in the U.S. We had been planning an Alaska cruise this summer. Not now due to the CDC. Do we have to spend our cruise dollars outside the country?

Ted Gillis

Proof of vaccination should be all that’s needed to get that industry back in service. Non Vaxers can just stay away.

Besides, all crew and staff have the right to expect a safe place of employment, just like the passengers should expect that all persons allowed on board are vaccinated.

I also think we are getting pretty close to allowing private use of the vaccine.

The cruise lines should be allowed to just make everybody roll up their sleeve as they get on board. Hand them their free cocktail and a shot! “Welcome Aboard” and watch your step.

Carlos Ponce

"Proof of vaccination should be all that’s needed to get that industry back in service."

Wow! So no need for identification at the polls but a vaccine passport for cruise lines. Oh, by the way, for cruise lines reaching foreign ports do you consider needing to produce a passport "racist"?

Charlotte O'rourke

One can understand wanting a definitive cruise start date. But just as with the no sail order the conditional sail date could be pushed back depending upon conditions.

UK domestic sailings could also be pushed if warranted as cruising has started and stopped as conditions in Europe’s ports change and can be easily demonstrated by the low number of passengers referenced (400,000) when cruising normally has 25-30 million passengers worldwide.

With the fluid and constantly changing conditions and covid variants, it would be easier mandating vaccines. State government should not overreach to stop private businesses from mandating rules for service.

The CDC should rethink some of its positions on things like gangways as the rules make no logical sense. If there is a reason explain it. Planning for breakthrough infections however should be required and local workers as well as cruise workers should be vaccinated and follow protocols to reduce transmission risk while dockside or at sea.

As much as we like to compare air travel to cruise travel, they are not the same for volume at risk or time exposure.

Get the rules in place and allow a return to cruising. It will never be zero risk for any industry, but with the proper precautions should be as risk free as possible as long as vaccines are effective against variants and protocols are followed.

Chuck DiFalco

"It will never be zero risk for any industry" I agree with that statement.

"But just as with the no sail order the conditional sail date could be pushed back depending upon conditions." It depends what you mean by "conditions". If you mean safety plans, procedures, documentation, and inspections, then OK. If you mean point-in-time epidemiological statics either in the USA or anywhere else in the world, then not OK. We're a year past where lockdowns, whether full or partial, cause more harm than good.

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