This is according to Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis Sola, who has headed the agency's fact-finding into the impact of COVID-19 on the US cruise industry and ports.
'Simple three-step process' to restart
In his view, restarting cruising is a 'simple three-step process, revolving around vaccines.'
In a commentary Thursday, Sola said vaccinations must be prioritized for the maritime workforce, particularly terminal workers and longshore labor. He said crew should be vaccinated, and only vaccinated individuals should be allowed as passengers.
Destinations where ships could sail at little risk
'There are destinations where cruise vessels can sail and find little risk of COVID,' Sola added. 'Vaccination rates in Alaska are impressive and that state is reaching herd immunity. Many cruise lines operate their own islands in the Bahamas and immunizing all staff working at such facilities is imminently achievable.'
Sola added that cruise lines and ports must work with health leaders to develop and implement a uniform set of minimum best sanitation practices, while lines and ports must coordinate the evacuation, isolation and provision of medical care for infected individuals.
Protocols adopted, CDC awaited
Months ago, Cruise Lines International Association members adopted the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations as their standard, and these include the need to provide for shoreside evacuation and care, also indicated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's conditional sail order of more than four months ago. Cruise lines await CDC technical guidance which, so far, has only been issued on crew testing.
Besides the hefty estimated losses in dollars, Sola talked about how many people working in many different enterprises rely on cruising for income.
Many livelihoods depend on cruising
'It is not just the fees paid to a port authority or the shoreside and longshore jobs created. Cruise vessels require food, linens and uniforms. They require entertainers, shoreside maintenance personnel and fuel.
'This is hardly an exhaustive list of services and supplies procured by cruise lines, frequently to the benefit of local and regional businesses throughout the United States,' Sola continued. 'Cruise passengers stay in hotels before and after trips. They buy airplane tickets, rent cars, visit museums, shop in local retail outlets and eat in local restaurants. The economic opportunities associated with a cruise ship call are varied and significant.'
The message Sola reported hearing 'over and over again from port executives, union leaders, municipal government officials and citizens' is that 'cruise ships provide livelihoods for many Americans and the sooner vessels sail again, the sooner people can provide for themselves and their families.'
He added: 'Vaccines are the game-changer that will allow that to happen.'