Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis Sola issued his final report in a nearly two-year fact finding effort into the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the cruise industry including the port facilities and communities that support or depend on the business.
Sola determined the cruise sector has implemented standards and safeguards that allow a vital part of the travel and hospitality industries to operate while managing health risks to crew and passengers.
Vital economic engine
'The passenger cruise industry is a vital economic engine for ports and cities across the United States and is an important source of jobs for Americans from all walks of life,' he said. 'Shutting down ships for an indeterminate amount of time had a negative economic impact on the people who rely on cruise ships for income, or the ports and communities that benefit from vessel calls. Determining what needed to be accomplished to allow ships to sail and minimize risks to passengers and crews was a priority for the Fact Finding from its first day.'
Sola expressed his satisfaction that the FMC acted on the two regulatory reform proposals he put forward as a result of Fact Finding 30.
'The responsiveness and support of my fellow commissioners allowed us to provide needed relief and flexibility to small, US-flag cruise operators serving the Pacific Northwest. Furthermore, once implemented, our changes to the Commission’s regulations on financial responsibility will benefit cruise passengers due refunds when a cruise line cancels a voyage.
'I am also pleased to note that our efforts identifying the significant economic influence of the cruise industry on the Alaskan economy was useful to the Alaskan Congressional Delegation in their work crafting and quickly passing the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act in response to the Canadian government suspending all cruise vessel calls to Canadian ports.'
Sola's fact-finding included outreach to many communities, including elected officials at all levels of government, senior cruise line executives, port officials, small business organizations, trade associations representing industries impacted by disruption to the cruise industry and organized labor. Site visits and meetings were carried out at ports in Alaska, California, Florida, Texas and Washington. He issued six reports examining economic impacts to specific states and regions.
The commissioner provided briefings to members of Congress and senior executive branch officials. He also highlighted the need to vaccinate mariners arriving to the US who wished to be vaccinated and stressed the need to vaccinate crews of passenger vessels.
'I hope to never see another no-sail or conditional sail order'
'Sensible and effective safety and health protocols can successfully minimize potential exposure to communicable diseases aboard a vessel, whether COVID-19 or some other pathogen,' Sola said. 'Ports and cruise lines have aggressively pursued creating the standards and infrastructure that allows ships to sail and be prepared to manage any health contingency that manifests itself. I hope to never see another no-sail or conditional sail order issued.'
Sola noted the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently affirmed that cruise operators are generally subscribing to the conditional sail order — actually, she said they're exceeding it — that will soon expire. The cruise industry intends to continue its voluntary compliance with the CDC framework, he said, and the CDC will continue to provide oversight.
System in place is working to mitigate COVID-19
'We cannot live in a world where our only choices are to either move freely without risk or lock down ourselves and the economy,' Sola said. 'COVID is here to stay, and we must learn to live with it. The system in place that allows cruise ships to operate is working to mitigate shipboard spread of COVID-19.'
A link to the final Fact Finding 30 report is here.