Press "Enter" to skip to content

Cruises expected to relaunch by the end of this year, pending ongoing talks with CDC



Ocean cruise liners are expected to once again begin sailing out of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach later this year, after being anchored for more than a year by the coronavirus pandemic, officials say.

But the return of cruise ships to the open seas, which promises to bring in millions of dollars to the local economy, isn’t without some lingering debate still being played out this month in the nation’s capital and in discussions with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preparing for the relaunch is complicated, as the industry remains under the CDC’s no-sail order.

But that order has repeatedly revised its Framework Conditional Sailing Order, most recently at the start of the month. Still, there are efforts underway, in both the U.S. Senate and in federal court, to remove the no-sail order, with some arguing it exceeds the CDC’s jurisdiction and unfairly impacts areas where cruise ships operate.

Officials with the CDC did not respond to requests for comment on the criticism its faced regarding the cruise industry.

But the federal health agency has long warned that cruises pose a particular risk of spreading the coronavirus. Yet, in an April 2 press release, the agency said that cruises will always have at least some risk of spreading the virus, its revised Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, will allow the industry to resume taking customers on the open seas as safely as possible.

“CDC is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising,” the press release said, “when it is safe to do so.”

But the exact timing for resuming cruises remains unclear.

Chris Chase, the business development manager who oversees cruise operations at the Port of Los Angeles, said numerous other details still need to be hashed out, including testing details, before an agreement with the CDC can be reached.

“We’re not there yet,” he said in an interview.

Cruise companies argue that the industry is being unfairly treated and restricted when compared to other entertainment venues as society begins to reopen.

Earlier this month, Carnival threatened to move some of its U.S. ships to other ports, as tensions mounted over the issue, according to a Bloomberg report.

That news report went on to say that while the CDC technically lifted its ban on cruises in October, the conditional framework order includes a multistep, phased-in process that includes extensive testing protocols — which cruise companies argue is overly burdensome — that companies must meet to sail again.

But progress has this week also been reported in ongoing talks for a resolution between the industry and the CDC.

Local cruises

As vaccines roll out and the case numbers begin to improve in many states, local ports, along with the cruise lines that serve them, are preparing for what is hoped to be a return of passenger cruising before the end of this year.

At the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach — where passenger cruise business represents a major source of income — the outlook is optimistic.

The Port of Los Angeles announced recently that it anticipates the return of Royal Caribbean International after a 10-year absence. Royal Caribbean has scheduled a three-day cruise on the Navigator of the Seas out of L.A. to Ensenada late this year; after that, it will offer year-round cruises from Los Angeles to Catalina Island, Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas, in Mexico.

“Our longtime partners Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines will also be resuming their robust schedule,” Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said recently.

“Here at the port, each time a cruise ship calls in Los Angeles, it brings more than $1 million to area restaurants, hotels and businesses,” Seroka said. “With Royal Caribbean’s nearly 100 new ship calls, along with our other cruise partners, we expect to add more than $230 million into our local economy in 2022.”

The industry generates more than $150 billion per year in global economic activity and supports more than 1 million jobs worldwide, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

For Long Beach, the pandemic hit just three months after it added the new 4,000-passenger Carnival Panorama, the largest ship in the fleet, to its itinerary. Carnival also had invested millions to double the size of its Long Beach Cruise Center.  The estimated 650,000 passengers it would bring was expected to boost the local economy by 33% annually.

In 2019, Chase said, there were 125 ship calls at the Port of Los Angeles.

From where things stand now, he said, there could be as many as 220 this year with Royal Caribbean’s return. That would almost double the volume of cruise activity in the port, Chase added.

“You could leave your house in the morning in the San Fernando Valley or Orange County and be on a cruise ship here at the Port of Los Angeles that afternoon,” Seroka said, noting the wide draw that the industry and local port have in the Los Angeles region.

Carnival expanding its cruise capacity in Long Beach

The Port of Long Beach’s mainstay, Carnival cruise line, on Tuesday, April 20, said in a statement that the company’s operations are “in a pause,” including sailings from the Long Beach Cruise Terminal, through June 30.

But sailings are expected to begin again out of Long Beach later this year.

The Carnival Radiance, scheduled to make its inaugural sailing from Long Beach following a $200 million renovation, will offer three- and four-day Baja sailings beginning in November, according to the company’s statement.

Carnival also plans to upgrade capacity for its Long Beach cruises by nearly 30% over 2019, the Carnival statement said. Three of the company’s newer, larger ships will offer three- to 14-day voyages to Mexico and Hawaii. The company also operates the Carnival Panorama and Carnival Miracle sailing out of Long Beach.

Some July trips from Long Beach remain on the schedule as well, as talks continue to solidify a resumption of the  U.S. cruise business.

“We need to reach a workable solution,” Carnival stated, “one that reflects the benefits of vaccinations, the advancements in treatments and the greater understanding of COVID-19 and one that treats the cruise industry consistent with the rest of the travel, tourism and entertainment sectors.”

The push now is for the CDC to allow sailings — with all crews and passengers vaccinated — by July 4, Chase said.

“There are a lot of safeguards” now in place, Chase said. “One thing to keep in mind, too, is that cruising in Europe has been going on for months with little or no issues of COVID.”

Progress in talks

Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain, in a video message released on Monday, April 19, expressed optimism that operations would resume this summer, saying the “pace of progress has accelerated” in talks with the CDC due to vaccine availability and improved testing and contact tracing.

More than 30 other countries, he said, already have granted permission for cruise ships to resume operations, and that data is being collected and used to bolster the industry’s contention that cruising can be done safely in the U.S.

Discussions with the CDC, Fain added, have been constructive.

But in the end, Fain said, it will be the CDC’s call.

And for now, Chase said, there is no return date or timeline yet in place.

Cruise ships, meanwhile, are making frequent port calls for maintenance, repairs and unloading of equipment, since the ships need to ramp up for 60 or 90 days to be ready to sail with passengers again, Chase said.

The shutdown of the industry, he said, has also impacted numerous businesses and jobs that are connected to the industry, including local shore baggage and security crews that assist each time a ship arrives in port.

“There are people,” he said, “who haven’t worked for 18 months.”

Sign up for The Localist, our daily email newsletter with handpicked stories relevant to where you live. Subscribe here.

Source: Orange County Register

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: