Yesterday Breaking Travel News published an interview with Frank Del Rio, NCL’s president and CEO. He claimed that a cruise ship can be “safer than anywhere else in the world.”

On March 13th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a “no sail” order which prohibited cruise ships from sailing from U.S. ports for thirty days. The CDC extended the order for 45 days to July 24th. The CDC concluded that “cruise ship travel markedly increases the risk and impact of the COVID19 disease outbreak in the United States.” The CDC further found that cruising “exacerbates the global spread of COVID19” and that the cruise industry failed to control the spread of the disease sufficiently, causing an unnecessary burden on the already over-burdened local, state and national healthcare systems.  You can read the CDC’s latest finding here.

What is most important for the cruise industry to survive, short of a vaccine, is for cruise lines to focus on adopting serious policies and procedures to safeguard the public and their ship employees’ health and safety.

Where Are the Cruise Industry’s Health and Safety Protocols?

Del Rio mentioned that the  cruise industry at large is “developing protocols.” However, the CEO did not mention any new policies or procedures to protect its guests and crew members from COVID-19. Nor did he announce that his brands have created any new protocols.  This is typical of the cruise industry which is ramping up to re-start cruising before announcing new safeguards.

Putting aside the issue of whether temperature checks, medical questionnaries, enhanced cleaning, social distancing and masks will ever be enough to stop the introduction and spread of coronavirus, Del Rio made no mention of NCL’s plans for when COVID-19 inevitably appears on a NCL cruise ship. In particular, he did not address how to avoid the cruise lines’ mistakes in the past where local governments were saddled with the costs and responsibility of caring for sick passengers and crew.

Immediately Stop All Cruise Bans?

CEO Del Rio characterized the government as an “obstacle” to cruising. He claimed that as soon as governments lift travel bans and open up ports, “the consumer will be there.”

Del Rio argued that government authorities have to “immediately stop” travel restrictions which are allegedly causing “great harm”on a “permanent basis to economies.” He said that “reality is now setting in” and “the general strokes painted by authority have to stop.”

If this rhetoric sounds familar, it is essentially what the current administration is telling the American public: The nearly 1,700,000 infected U.S. citizens and 100,000 dead are not as important as COVID-19’s effect on the economy. In this regard, Del Rio  personally collected over $85,000,000 in the last five years. NCL collected revenues of $6,500,000,000 and netted over $930,000,000. It also cannot go without noting that the cruise industry has a tremendous advantage over shore-side resorts, hotels and restaurants by incorporating in foreign countries and registering its ships in foreign countries like Panama and the Bahamas in order to avoid U.S. income taxes, U.S. wage and labor laws, and U.S. occupational health and safety laws.

A Rush to Cruising As Normal?

Remarkably Del Rio stated that “people are rushing to bars and restaurants as they reopen, they want to get back to their normal lives, and cruising is a part of their normal lives.” Del Rio seems to believe that disregarding the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing and the wearing of masks is a good thing rather than a major problem that needs to be discouraged.  Images of people crowded tightly together without masks in the Lake of the Ozarks water park this past Memorial Day weekend have circulated widely on social media.

Ironically, NCL permitted its crew members to crowd together without masks during several parties earlier this month on the Norwegian Escape (above right) and Norwegian Epic (left) at the port of Miami. In an article titled “Ridiculously Overcrowded” Norwegian Escape Sails to Miami, we noted that after NCL assembled employees from several different NCL ships aboard the Norwegian Escape which sailed to Miami, the cruise line scheduled a series of parties on the pool decks of several of its ships. It made no effort to enforce social distancing or the wearing of masks.

Hundreds of NCL crew members openly mingled and crowded around bars on the pool deck of the NCL ship without masks. (We also posted a video of a crowded pool party in our article Norwegian Epic – the Latest NCL Cruise Ship to Ignore the CDC’s Social Distancing Rule). This was reckless and a clear violation of the CDC’s guidelines.

The CDC Will Likely Continue its No Sail Order

It is unlikely that the CDC will suspend its “no sail” order before the current deadline of July 24, which NCL and the other cruise lines seem to have finally acknowledged by stating that they will not restart operation until August at the earliest. It appears likely, in my opinion, that the CDC will extend the order for at least 30-45 days with a new sail date of not before September 1st.

But when the CDC gives a green light to the cruise lines to sail again, there is no question that it will begin on the CDC’s terms. The agency’s mission statement is the protection of human life and the prevention of the further “introduction, transmission and spread” of COVID-19 spread in the U.S. Treating the CDC as an “obstacle” and demanding that it “immediately stop” travel restrictions for the protection of the economy is inconsistent with the CDC’s mission of protecting the public’s health. It is likely to cause the CDC, and the governments of the port countries, to rightfully view the cruise industry with increased concern and suspicion.

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We suggest reading: Leaked Emails: Norwegian Pressures Sales Team to Mislead Potential Customers About Coronavirus by Miami New Times March 11, 2020.

Photo credit: Frank Del Rio – Mark Elias/Bloomberg via Getty Images and Storify; NCL cruise ships – anonymous crew members.