Cruise lines scramble to complete CDC Phase 2A port/health agreements

PHOTO: LISA SETRINI-ESPINOSA/FREEIMAGES CRUISE_US_flag.jpg
No cruise lines are known to have submitted their port/local health agreements in the CDC's Phase 2A of the conditional sailing order. However, that may soon change.

Perhaps in the coming week.

Great variation, by port

At some key ports these contractual agreements are causing headaches for lines and could be weeks away. At others, the progress is encouraging. There can be great variation, sources said, even between ports in close proximity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Phase 2A guidance on April 2. This details requirements for cruise operators' agreements with port and local health authorities related to conducting simulated voyages and restricted passenger voyages under a COVID-19 conditional sailing certificate and includes contractual arrangements with shoreside medical facilities for emergency care and arrangements for isolaton and quarantine facilities along with specifics like transportation and security.

Norwegian Cruise Line edges closer 

President and CEO Harry Sommer said Norwegian Cruise Line hopes to complete its port/local health agreements 'in the next week or so,' adding that 'Alaska is at the front of the list.'

The CDC has indicated a five-day turnaround for submissions, and Sommer noted it's the local health authorities that first need to sign off on these arrangements, with the CDC then reviewing them to make sure they're complete in all respects.

Since NCL has a vaccination mandate for passengers and crew, it is exempt from the CSO's Phase 2B requirements for trial voyages. 

Push for Phase 3 details

So the line's pushing for more comprehensive Phase 3 details in order to get a definitive date to restart in the US. Phase 3 deals with requirements to apply for a sailing permit with real passengers and will entail matters like shore excursions.

Sommer would expect CDC to make a distinction between ships visiting US ports versus foreign ports, and, hopefully, in all aspects of operations for fully vaccinated ships.

'The biggest obstacle in front of us is getting Phase 3 guidance,' he said yet cautioned 'If Phase 2B is any indication of what Phase 3 guidance is going to be, we still have a little road ahead of us.

Dreaming of August in Alaska

'If we got got the Phase 3 rules next week, and they were workable, we would be happy to restart in Alaska in August,' Sommer added, elaborating that if CDC provides at least most of the Phase 3 rules 'in the next week or two,' by end of May latest, Alaska's feasible. 'But if it goes much beyond that, it's going to be another missed year in Alaska,' he said.

Sommer remains 'cautiously optimistic' due to the Alaska congressional delegation's work, even though Canada hasn't agreed to port calls or 'technical' stops and the US has not approved a temporary waiver to the Passenger Vessel Services Act — all tall orders.

Florida injunction hearing Wednesday

Florida's motion for a preliminary injunction in its lawsuit against the CDC's cruise shutdown is set for a hearing May 12 before Judge Steven D. Merryday at US federal court in Tampa.

If the judge grants the injunction, work with the government of Canada takes on renewed interest because it would still be a stumbling block for Alaska, Sommer said, a PVSA waiver aside.

But NCL's US-flag Hawaii cruise operation would be possible, and the line could start sailing from ports in Florida or from New Orleans.

No NCL cruising in July

'We have lots of options for an August restart. I don't think there's any potential for July. I think the earliest we could start is early August,' Sommer said, echoing Frank Del Rio's remarks Thursday.

CDC Phase 2A clarifications

Meanwhile, on Friday, CDC added clarifications to Phase 2A agreements in an FAQ section on its website.

For example, the agency acknowledged that shoreside medical facilities and healthcare systems cannot 'guarantee' bed capacity. So in documenting a cruise ship operator’s contractual arrangements with such facilities or systems, redundant contracts, or contracts allowing for preferential acceptance of patients on a space available basis, are considered acceptable.

And the CDC said that when it comes to housing and transportation components in the agreements, the parties may consider the ability of travelers to use their own personal vehicles to return safely to their residences. The parties should consider the time required for travelers to drive to their final destinations to avoid the need for overnight stays en route.

The health department at the traveler’s final destination must be notified and travelers must be advised to complete their isolation or quarantine at home.

Crew accommodations

And on the CDC's Technical Instructions for Mitigation of COVID-19 Among Cruise Ship Crew web page, 'Relocate all crew to single-occupancy cabins with private bathroom' was replaced with 'Minimize the number of crew sharing a cabin or bathroom to the extent possible.' Additionally, this is now listed as 'recommended' for all color statuses instead of 'required.'

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