Cruise industry salty over CDC plan to keep travelers safe from COVID at sea

A person wearing a face make walks along a port on a sunny day with the Princess Diamond cruise ship docked in the background.
Enlarge / YOKOHAMA, JAPAN – FEBRUARY 10: A member of the media wears a face mask while walking past the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The cruise industry is rather salty about the latest federal guidance for safe pandemic sailing, calling it “burdensome” and “unworkable. “

The new guidance is an updated phase of the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), released April 2 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While it does not mandate vaccinations for all staff and cruisegoers, it does recommend the shots and requires added layers of health measures to try giving any onboard COVID-19 outbreaks the heave-ho—which is exceedingly difficult to do on the tightly packed, highly social vessels.

Among several changes, the guidance requires cruise operators to increase how frequently they report the number of COVID-19 cases onboard, upping reporting from weekly to daily. It also requires cruise lines to implement new routine testing for crew members. Additionally, the guidance requires that cruise lines have agreements set up with port authorities and local health authorities to ensure that, in the event of an outbreak, there will be coordination and infrastructure necessary to safely quarantine, isolate, and treat passengers and crew on land.

Once those requirements are met, cruise operators can run mock cruises with volunteer passengers and, if all goes well, apply for a “Conditional Sailing Certificate.”

In a statement released Monday, the prominent industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association released a statement calling the new guidance “unduly burdensome, largely unworkable.”


The CLIA claims the health guidance “deprives US workers from participating in the economic recovery” and provides “no discernable path forward or timeframe for resumption” of cruises originating in the country. The group ended its statement by urging the Biden administration to “consider the ample evidence that supports lifting the CSO this month to allow for the planning of a controlled return to service this summer.”

Likewise, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio told The Washington Post in an interview Monday that the company was “disappointed,” by the CDC’s latest guidance. “We thought it was a step backward, quite frankly,” Del Rio said.

The cruise executive sent a letter to CDC director Rochelle Walensky on Monday, touting the cruise company’s own plan to safely resume cruising, which includes mandatory vaccination for all passengers and employees. Del Rio balked at the agency’s additional requirements, regardless of vaccination status.

The CDC is unlikely to be moved on the subject. In its announcement of the guidance, the agency noted that “Cruising safely and responsibly during a global pandemic is difficult. While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the phases of the CSO will ensure cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel, particularly with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern.”

In the early days of the pandemic, cruise ships were among the first high-profile victims of COVID-19 and experienced devastating outbreaks that gained international attention. Among the most memorable was the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined for weeks at a Japanese port in February 2020 amid a blazing outbreak. At one point, the luxury liner had the largest cluster of COVID-19 outside of China, where the pandemic began. In all, 712 of the ship’s 3,711 passengers and crew were infected, 37 required intensive care, and nine died.