Today, the cruise industry’s trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), published a press release calling for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lift its conditional sailing order (CSO) and permit cruise ships to resume sailing from U.S. ports effective July 1, 2021.  The CDC has reportedly quickly denied CLIA’s request and stated that the CSO will remain in effect until at least Nov. 1, 2021, according to Cruise Industry News. It remains unclear whether the cruise lines are really prepared to safely return to sailing from U.S. ports during a deadly pandemic anytime soon.

Question 1: Will Cruise Lines Satisfy Any Portion of the Conditional Sailing Order, Including Making Arrangements for Housing and Medical Treatment for Infected Guests and Crew?

The first part of the CDC’s conditional sail order requires cruise companies to test crew members for COVID-19 weekly and report the results to the CDC. However, there are still companies with ships in U.S. waters which have not complied with this part of the order, a CDC representative told the Miami Herald. After this is completed, cruise lines must then obtain agreements with local health authorities and port authorities to arrange for housing and medical treatment for those crew members and passengers who become infected during cruises.

Question 2: Will CLIA Cruise Lines Be Responsible for Passengers’ Medical Expenses If and When A Guest Becomes Infected with COVID-19 During a Cruise?

It does not appear that any cruise line has stated that it will pay for all COVID-related medical costs if and when guests become infected. These costs would necessarily include land-based medical expenses from U.S. health providers such as U.S. hospitals, emergency rooms or intensive care units, respiratory therapies, medications, ventilators and other expensive medicines and medical equipment. Royal Caribbean, for example, states that it will cover only the cost of “onboard medical treatment” which means that this cruise line will deny all claims for medical treatment once the guest leaves the cruise ship. Travel insurance typically excludes COVID-related medical treatment. This leaves a family who becomes ill due to the virus liable for potentially catastrophic medical expenses. It appears that the CDC’s conditional sailing order envisions the cruise companies making arrangements and paying for the medical treatment associated with a passenger who tests positive for COVID-19 and requires medical treatment.

There is language in the “Royal Promise” drafted by Royal Caribbean for sailings from Singapore that the cruise line will “cover COVID-19-related costs up to $25,000 SGD ($20,000 USD) per person in your travel party, for onboard medical costs, cost of any required quarantine, and travel home. Royal Caribbean claims that “We’ll Never Stop Taking Care of You.” But by the very terms of the “Royal Promise,” Royal Caribbean promises that it will absolutely stop caring for those guests who become infected and incur medical, evacuation and quarantine expenses that exceed $20,000 USD. $20,000 is arguably not sufficient to cover such emergency expenses.

Question 3: Will CLIA Agree to Disclose the Number of Guests and Crew Infected Over the Last Eight Months and in the Future? 

In its press release, CLIA claims that over the last eight month, its cruise ships have carried “nearly 400,000” passengers who sailed to ports in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. It further claims that there allegedly have been “fewer than fifty” reported COVID cases, “based on public reports.”  CLIA did not disclose how it came up with this number or what it considers to be “public reports.” The way that CLIA wrote its press release does not appear that it included crew member COVID cases in its tally.

None of the cruise lines have been forthcoming with basic information regarding the number of COVID cases on their cruise ships, either before or after the CDC entered its first no-sail order. According to the Miami Herald and the New York Times, there were well over 3,100 COVID cases and 111 deaths on as many as 87 cruise ships, “although Data shows that there were far more cases of Covid-19 on cruise ships than have been reported.”

Our firm has meticulously followed the number of positive COVID cases on cruise ships since last summer involving passengers and crew members based on news reports, primarily from Europe, which are based on cruise line press releases, public health authorities and witness accounts. The truth is that there have been over 200 passengers, crew members and contractors who tested positive for COVID-19 during European sailings since cruising was suspended from U.S. ports last year. The cases involved MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, TUI Group/Mein Schiff, SeaDream, Hurtigruten and a number of smaller river cruise ships. (You can see a partial list here).

The cruise industry should be required to post the incidents of positive COVID cases on a portal maintained by the Department of Transportation (DOT) like it was required by Congress to do in disclosing crimes against passengers. It should also be required to state the name of the cruise ship, the number of people infected, whether the cases involves a passenger or crew member and the date of the infection.

Question 4: Does CLIA Recommend that Cruise Lines Require Its Passengers and Crew to be Vaccinated? If Not, Why Not?

As far as CLIA members in the U.S. are concerned, it appears that only Royal Caribbean/Celebrity Cruises and Crystal Cruises have required vaccinations on select cruises.  In announcing that Royal Caribbean is dodging CDC jurisdiction by sailing from Nassau with vaccinated adult passengers, Royal Caribbean’s president Micheal Bayley recently said “The vaccines are clearly a game changer for all of us, and with the number of vaccinations and their impact growing rapidly, we believe starting with cruises for vaccinated adult guests and crew is the right choice.” Other major cruise lines like NCL and Carnival Corporation-owned ships have not announced a commitment to require vaccinations of all passengers at this time.

Question 5: In Light of 3,341,608 Children Who Have Been Infected With COVID-19 Cases to Date, Does CLIA Recommend Against Minors Cruising?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled detailed data which indicates that there have been 3,341,608 child COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S., comprising 13.3% of the 25,111,012 cases in the U.S. to date.  There were over 57,000 COVID cased reported just last week alone.  Fortunately, children are less likely than adults to experience serious symptoms requiring hospitalizations. Still. there have been 269 deaths of children due to COVID-19, as the data shows.

Some cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, are permitting minors to cruise only on a showing of a negative COVID-19 tests within three days prior to cruising. This is potentially dangerous.  As cruising outside of the U.S. has revealed, coronavirus tests can yield false results. There is always the risk of infection after the test while traveling in public spaces to the cruise terminal, flying to the Caribbean ports, mingling with other unvaccinated children during the cruise, or coming into contact with vaccinated adults who still can transmit the virus.

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Image credits: Carnival cruise ships – Jim Walker, John Walker; Port of Miami – Jim Walker.