In an effort to convince the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that it’s safe to resume sailing from U.S. ports, cruise lines, travel writers, cruise bloggers and the industry’s trade organization have resorted to falsely understating the actual number of positive COVID-19 cases that have occurred outside of the U.S.

Yesterday afternoon, Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO Frank Del Rio was interviewed on the popular stock show MAD MONEY hosted by  Jim Cramer. He excitedly touted NCL’s alleged “ironclad” health and safety protocols which Del Rio claims makes a NCL cruise ship the “safest place on earth.  Mr. Del Rio has engaged in this hyperpole before. Last May, before NCL had a single health protocol,  he publicly claimed that cruise ships were “safer than anywhere else in the world” and urged the CDC to “stop immediately” all COVID related restrictions. Several hundred thousands of U.S. citizens died since then. He suggested that cruise ships in Europe and Asia have carried “over 400,000 guests with less than 50 COVID cases.” He added that “other cruise lines handled all of the cases with grace. No cruises interrupted or cancelled midway.”  As explained below, these assertions are patently false.

Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain repeated the erroneous CLIA information just last week.

The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) initially published the false data.  In a March 24, 2021 press release aimed at convincing the CDC to drop its Conditional Sailing Order, CLIA said that “nearly 400,000 passengers “sailed over the last eight months in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific with “fewer than 50” COVID cases.

Many travel writers and cruise bloggers repeated CLIA’s false talking points. Travel writer and cruise blogger Dave Monk (right) cited the CLIA erroneous  data in comments on Twitter, in an effort to resume cruising, including tweets to travel writer Dana Freedman.

The cruise fan blog Royal Caribbean Blog also regurgitated the false industry data in an article today – “nearly 400,000 passengers have already sailed from Europe and parts of Asia since last summer” with “fewer than 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard.”

The Royal Caribbean Blog also wrote that Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas has had over “50,000 guests sail onboard with zero positive Covid-19 cases to date.” This may be true but it is more of a reflection of cruising out of Singapore, which the article doesn’t mention. Local residents of the country of Singapore which, remarkably, has zero new cases of local transmission of COVID-19  (and only 30 deaths in the last year). Only citizens of Singapore are permitted on Royal Caribbean sailings from that country.  Singapore’s success is in stark contrast to the U.S. data with over 555,700 coronavirus deaths and over 30,800,000 COVID19 infections so far (based on data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center).

Travel Weekly, Cruise Radio, Cruise Industry News  and numerous other travel writers and popular cruise bloggers repeated the misleading information from CLIA. Several cruise bloggers like Cruise Hive and Royal Caribbean Blog directed cruise fans to write to elected officials to urge the CDC to drop its restrictions, based in part on CLIA’s erroneous claim that there were less than 50 COVID cases outside of the U.S.

This assortment of cruise lines, cruise executives, industry leaders and travel writers have consistently understated the true number of COVID-19 cases by over 75%  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 and the Caribbean, which are based on cruise line press releases, public health authorities and witness accounts. The truth is that there have been around 214 passengers and crew members who tested positive for COVID-19 on sailings since cruising was suspended from U.S. ports last year. The cases involved MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, TUI Group/Mein Schiff, AIDA, SeaDream, Hurtigruten and a number of smaller river cruise ships.

Notwithstanding health protocols invariably described by the cruise companies as “rigorous” and allegedly creating a “safe bubble,” there were four outbreaks on river cruise lines from September through November of 2020 where at least 99 people were infected and numerous cruises were cancelled. Ten crew members were infected on the MS Thurgau Chopin (formerly the MS Frederic Chopin) river cruise ship operated by Swiss company Thurgau Travel. Sixty of ninety-two passengers (two-thirds) who sailed on the river cruise ship MS Swiss Crystal were infected on a cruise on the Danube and Main. In early September, eight guests and crew members on a CroisiEurope river cruise ship on the Douro River in Portugal tested positive for COVID-19. German newspapers reported that at least thirteen people were infected on another river cruise ship, MS Vista Serenity, on the Moselle River in Germany.  In some of these cases, the local newspapers reported that passengers left the ship without realizing that there had been an outbreak on board.

In addition, 74 people were infected on Hurtigruten cruise ships, including the MS Roald Amundsen (where 71 were infected) and MS Finnmarken (3 infected with 1 death) and cruises were cancelled. Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises also recently experienced outbreaks on their cruise ships. Eight people were infected on the Costa Diadema (above left) which advertised “rigorous protocols” and a “totally safe cruise.” One person also tested positive on the MSC Grandiosa.  Silversea’s Silver Spirit also had one COVID-19 case in early September during a Red Sea cruise. A Ponant cruise ship, the Jacques-Cartierwas involved in a COVID-19 outbreak where thirteen people were infected. The ship was initially delayed in leaving an Italian port.  On its website, the Compagnie du Ponant boasted of exceptional cruises in “an anti-Covid bubble” with “its state-of-the-art health protocols.” 

Four guests tested positive for COVID on the Mein Schiff 2 in February of 2021. Five crew members tested positive for COVID on the Mein Schiff 1 in July of last year. Ten AIDA crew members tested positive last July as well.

The most widely reported recent COVID debacle involved a COVID outbreak last November on the SeaDream where 7 guests and 2 crew members were infected. SeaDream Yacht Club cancelled the cruise from Barbados and discontinued all cruising to this day.

The cruise industry has ben prone to make false statements to the public in order to sell cruises. Early last year, the Miami New Times and the Washington Post published articles revealing that NCL publicly down played the pandemic and pressured its sales team to understate and misrepresent the reality of COVID-19.  Read: Leaked Emails: Norwegian Pressures Sales Team to Mislead Potential Customers About Coronavirus by Miami New Times March 11, 2020 (“The Coronavirus can only survive in cold temperatures, so the Caribbean is a fantastic choice for your next cruise,” was one NCL talking point to prospective customers).

It is essential to the cruise lines that they regain the trust of the public’s trust if the industry’s is going to successfully return to sailing. But the public is right to view cruise line promises with suspicion. NCL’s talk of having “ironclad” health protocols appears doubtful when the cruise line, CLIA and cruise supporters consistently understate the actual number positive COVID cases outside of the U.S.

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Photo credits: CEO Frank Del Rio – Jim Cramer’s MAD MONEY April 5, 2021; Costa Diadema – Z Thomas – CC BY-SA 4.0 commons / wikimedia;  “Totally Safe Cruise” – Costa Cruises – By Z thomas – CC BY-SA 4.0 wikipedia / commons,

 

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (HCLH) announced today that it will require its crew and passengers to be vaccinated as a prerequisite to cruising.  NCLH stated that it will follow its own “Sail Safe” protocols and “Healthy Sail” protocols which it developed with experts who it hired with Royal Caribbean. NCLH has adopted a policy of “Mandatory Vaccinations on Initial Voyages” which states that:

“All guests and crew must be fully vaccinated, at least 2 weeks prior to departure, in order to board. Guest vaccination requirements are currently for all sailings embarking through October 31, 2021– we will follow the science to make determinations on requirements for all other future sailings.”

The CDC’s Vaccination Guidance

This cruise group requires vaccinations for both guests and crew after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it new guidance last Friday. The guidance includes several references to the CDC’s recommendation that all passengers and crew members, as well as port personnel, be vaccinated, including:

  • A plan and timetable for vaccinating crew members before the cruise ship resumes passengers operations;
  • Proposals how to maximally protect passengers and crew members from infection and spread  of COIVD-19;
  • Education of passengers, crew and port personnel about the importance of vaccinations; and
  • “Vaccination clinics” to educate and encourage port personnel who are expected to interact with passengers and crew to become vaccinated.

NCLH Sends Unilateral Announcement that It Will Resume Sailing This Summer as Part of “America’s National Opening This Summer” 

NCLH informed the CDC of its new vaccination policy today, when its CEO, Frank Del Rio, sent an unilateral letter (see link at bottom) to  the Director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, titled “our plan to join America’s national opening this summer,” stating that the cruise group would  resume cruise operations “on or about July 4, 2021.” The date was obviously chosen to coincide with the U.S.’s Fourth Of July observations. This is an odd U.S. patriotic reference by a foreign corporation which incorporated in Bermuda and which registered its cruise ship in the Bahamas to avoid all U.S. income taxes, U.S. wage and labor laws, and U.S. occupational health and safety regulations. There is obviously no remote scientific relevance tying the nation’s birthday to the issue of whether it’s safe to cruise on a foreign flagged cruise ship.

CEO Del Rio did not indicate wheher his cruise lines will follow any other CDC’s requirements set forth in the CDC’s recent guidance. The CDC has made it clear in its original and most recent conditional sailing orders that cruise lines must obtain the CDC’s  approval of arrangements with all local port and local health authorities (“where the ship intends to dock or make port”) regarding the vaccinations of port personnel, as well as medical treatment and housing for those individuals who become infected or ill with COVID-19 and close contacts who need to be isolated and quarantined.

NCLH Ignores the CDC’s Language Regarding Port Personnel Vacinations

The CDC requires cruise operators and port authorities to devise a plan to protect not only cruise passenger and guests but “port personnel” as well. The CDC widely defines this term as including “port agents/greeters, security personnel, transportation staff (including drivers of buses and shuttle-van), baggage handlers, check-in staff, cleaners/janitorial staff, longshoremen, maritime pilots, and delivery drivers.” There is nothing in NCLH’s “Safe Sail” protocols or the joint Royal Caribbean / NCL “Healthy Sail” recommendations (Read Why The Royal Caribbean – NCL “Healthy Sail” Protocols Will Fail) addressing the health and safety of port workers and the corresponding spread of the disease from cruise ships.

NCLH Ignores the CDC’s Medical and Housing Requirements

Most glaringly absent from Del Rio’s missive is the absence of any intention of NCLH following the CDC’s requirement that it seek approval of agreements to provide medical treatment and housing for those guests and crew who become infected or ill with COVID-19 and their close contacts and need to be isolated and quarantined. An essential requirement by the CDC is the preparation and approval of medical and housing arrangements in order to provide for the “emergency medical transportation of critically ill persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 from the ship to a shoreside medical facility …”

A central concern of the CDC has always been that cruise ships exacerbate the global spread of COVID-19 and treatment of people infected with coronavirus will inundate and overwhelm federal and local healthcare systems. Anticipating this concern, Del Rio opines that because of the company’s unapproved protocols, “we will not require federal, state or local governments to incur time and/or resources in providing medical assistance to our brands’ guests.”  The CEO surmises that “our vessels are well equipped to handle the one-off case of infection that could occur, and our procedures are well detailed and resourced to treat, address and otherwise handle any isolated case onboard.” Del Rio also touts that his comany’s protocols will create a “a safe, bubble-like environment.” Unfortunately, the cruise industry which has experienced oner 200 positive COVID-19 cases outside of U.S. based sailings, knows first-hand that promises of a “safe  bubble” are often illusory.

It is doubtful that the scientists at the CDC will give any credence to these opinions of a cruise CEO whose shipboard medical doctors and medical personnel in the past maimed both crew members and  guests in heartbreaking, highly publicized cases.

NCLH Tells the CDC That It Will Be Sailing at Full Capacity in Three Months

The most outrageous part of CEO Del Rio’s presumptuous letter is that he tells the CDC that he will soon be sailing with ships full of passengers.  He writes “NCLH vessels will begin cruise operations at an initial reduced capacity of 60%, gradually ramping up our fleet departing from U.S. ports and increasing capacity by 20% every 30 days.” This means that by August 4th, his ships will be sailing at over 70% capacity. By September, the percentage will climb to over 85%. By October 4th, NCLH ships will be operating at full capacity.

The CDC’s recent guidance states that the cruise lines are obligated to obtain approval of agreements which must include the total number of ships (and the total number of passengers and crew) to be operated from U.S. ports. The cruise lines must consider whether the number of people could potentially overwhelm the available medical supplies and ability of local health officials.  There is no way that the CDC will accept a cruise line’s unilateral decision to sail as many ships as its executives may fancy at full capacity in just three months.

Del Rio has long stated that he intends to sail cruise ships at full capacity and as soon as possible. Last July, Del Rio told the Financial Times that “one of the hallmarks of the cruise industry is that we always sail with full ships. It’s one of the basic tenets of our business model.”  Lower capacities “would be a severe blow” to financial performance, he added. The CDC has concluded that reducing the occupancy of ships was an integral step toward combating the spread of COVID-19.

There is a Long History of CEO Del Rio’s Contempt for the CDC

There is an undeniable irony of Del Rio dictating his view of health and safety to the federal health agency. NCL almost single handedly cemented the reputation of the cruise industry being non-compliant with the CDC’s cruise-related COVID health protocols. NCL in general and Del Rio in particular have demonstrated a persistently combative and defiant attitude toward the CDC:

  • Last April, ex-president Trump named Del Rio to his “Great American Economic Revival” Industry Group. Del Rio admired the reopen the economy attitude of the ex-president who advocated fewer regulations and pro-business tax cuts before the pandemic. Del Rio was one of several cruise executives who refused to publicly acknowledge or support the CDC’s  extension of the “no-sail” order to July 24, 2021. Like other cruise CEO’s, he publicly disputed the CDC’s conclusion that “cruise ship travel markedly increases the risk and impact of the COVID19 disease outbreak in the United States.”
  • In May, NCL permitted its crew members to crowd together without masks during several parties  on the Norwegian Escape (above left) and Norwegian Epic (below 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 onto the Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Epic which sailed to Miami, the cruise line scheduled a series of parties on the pool decks of these 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). NCL also ignored the CDC’s instructions that crew members should not be forced to live together in solo internal cabins on the NCL ships. This was reckless and a clear violation of the CDC’s guidelines.
  • Del Rio claimed, even before his hired experts prepared a single protocol designed to reduce the spread of the virus, that a cruise ship can be “safer than anywhere else in the world.
  • In May, CEO Del Rio characterized the CDC as an “obstacle” to cruising. He claimed that as soon as the government 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.” 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.

Health and Safety Agencies, Not Rich Cruise Tycoons, Should Decide When It’s Safe to Cruise

CEO Del Rio received compensation in the staggering amount of $36,400,000 last year, consisting of nearly $18,000,000 in stock awards. NCLH meanwhile fired or furloughed thousands of unemployed crew members and shoreside employees due to the pandemic.

CEO Del Rio is by far the highest paid cruise executive in the world. In the last three years alone, Del Rio took home over $76,000,000 in income. Including his 2015 income of $31,900,000, he collected over $108,000,000 for four years, including $22,590,000 in 2018, $17,808,000 in 2019,and $36,400,000 in 2020. He collected $2,900,000 in 2016 and $10,490,000 in 2017.

In my view, Del Rio has forgotten that he is just a presumptuous cruise tycoon, not an epidemiologist or a scientist or a infectious disease expert. He should leave issues like safe ship capacity, COVID-19 protocols and contingent emergency plans to the federal health and safety experts.

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Image Credits: Norwegian Joy – Arno Redenius – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia; Frank Del Rio – CNBC Jim Cramer’s MAD Money April 5, 2021; NCL deck parties on Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Epic – anonymous NCL crew member.

You can read CEO Del Rio’s full “our plan to join America’s national opening this summerletter to the CDC on this link to Cruise Industry News.

Last week, Royal Caribbean applied for two new trademarks, “America’s Cruise Line” and “America’s Favorite Cruise Line.”

The news was first reported by @trademarktrader on Twitter, who reported on March 31st that Royal Caribbean first applied for “America’s Cruise Line:”

On April 1st, the site reported that Royal Caribbean applied for a second traemark, “America’s Favority Cruise Line:”

The previous week, Carnival Cruise Line’s president, Christine Duffy, announced via a YouTube video that Carnival was America’s cruise line. She stated that Carnival is a favorite of those who drive their families to any one of the fourteen U.S. ports where Carnival home-ports most of its ships

A reader commented: “America’s cruise line? A foreign-flagged, foreign-crewed, foreign corporation that avoids US taxes.” Of course, Carnival Cruise Line is a Panamanian corporation which registers its cruise ships in either Panama or the Bahamas in order to avoid not only U.S. taxes, but U.S. wage and labor laws, U.S. occupational health and safety laws, and U.S. environmental laws.

The Royal Caribbean cruise fan blog, Royal Caribbean Blog, also  announced that Royal Caribbean recently filed for the “America’s Cruise Line” trademark.

Royal Caribbean, of course, is also a non-U.S. corporation, which was incorporated in Liberia to avoid all U.S. income taxes and U.S. wage and labor laws. It takes a certain chutzpah to claim that you’re America’s cruise line, much less its favorite cruise line, when Royal Caribbean has done everything possible to isolate itself from U.S. taxes, U.S. labor laws, and U.S. occupational health and safety laws.

Royal Caribbean is also one of the first U.S. based cruise lines (Celebrity, Crystal and Windstar are the others) to begin to use home ports outside of the U.S. in order to dodge the guidelines of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Royal Caribbean will be using Nassau as the home port for the Adventure of the Seas starting in June. Royal Caribbean registers all of its Royal Caribbean brand ships in the Bahamas given the Bahamas’s lax labor laws and its indifference to the wide-spread pollution from U.S. based cruise ships in Bahamian waters. The Bahamas is a country which did absolutely nothing after Carnival ships were caught illegally dumping 500,000 gallons of sewage and plastics and food waste in Bahamian waters.

The Bahamas is home for Royal Caribbeann’s Coco Cay private resort which touts the largest water-park in the Caribbean, including the tallest waterslide in North America. Given the fact that Bahamas is the flag state for the cruise line’s fleet of ships and is now the home port for cruises that would otherwise sail from a U.S. port, it may be more accurate to say that Royal Caribbean is now the Bahamas’ favorite cruise line.

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Image credit: “Perfect Day at Coco Cay” – Royal Caribbean Cruises.

 

On Friday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the long-awaited new guidance for cruise ships. The CDC stated that COVID-19  vaccinations will be “critical” to resuming normal operations. The new guidance provides the cruise industry with the four basic requirements which establish minimum health protection requirements:

  • Increased reporting of COVID-19 cases from daily to weekly;
  • Routine testing of crew members based on each ship’s color status;
  • Preparation of agreements with port authorities and local health authorities to ensure that cruise lines have necessary infrastructure to manage COVID-19 cases on their ships, including healthcare and housing to isolate, quarantine. treat and tests infected people and those individuals in close quarantine with those exposed.
  • Establishing a plan and timeline for vaccination of crew and “port personnel,” who are widely defined as including port agents/greeters, security personnel, transportation staff (including drivers of buses and shuttle-van), baggage handlers, check-in staff, cleaners/janitorial staff, longshoremen, maritime pilots, and delivery drivers.

In addition, the CDC updated the color-coding system to classify cruise ship COVID status and decreased the time for a “red” ship to become “green.”

Vaccinations, Medical and Housing Agreements

The CDC requires that the cruise lines makes arrangements with all local port and local health authorities (“where the ship intends to dock or make port”) regarding the vaccinations of passengers, crew members and port personnel, as well as medical treatment and housing for those individuals and close contacts who become infected or ill with COVID-19 and isolated and quarantined. The agreements must include the total number of ships (and total number of passengers and crew) to be operated at of the port. The cruise line must consider whether the number of people could potentially overwhelm the available medical supplies and ability of local health officials. The agreements must be signed by the cruise line’s chief executive officer (CEO). chief compliance officer (CCO), and highest-ranking medical officer.

The next stage of the the CDC’s conditional sailing order will include simulated cruises to permit crew and port personnel to demonstrate compliance with the new COVID-19 protocols with volunteer passengers.

Vaccinations Arrangements

The Guidance includes several refences to the CDC’s recommendation that all passengers and crew members, as well as port personnel, be vaccinated, including:

  • A plan and timetable for vaccinating crew members before the cruise ship resumes passengers operations;
  • Proposals how to maximally protect passengers and crew members from infection and spread  of COIVD-19;
  • Education of passengers, crew and port personnel about the importance of vaccinations; and
  • “Vaccination clinics” to educate and encourage port personnel who are expected to interact with passengers and crew to become vaccinated.

The CDC makes clear that even fully vaccinated persons must still wear masks in terminals and on ships while traveling in the U.S.

Medical Arrangements

The medical arrangements required to be prepared and approved must be able to provide for the “emergency medical transportation of critically ill persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 from the ship to a shoreside medical facility …” The cruise line must specify the primary as well as the secondary medical facilities suited to provide the necessary level of care.

An additional requirement of the CDC is that it “must include clear protocols that avoid medical evacuations at sea to the greatest extent possible” for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related medical reasons. Protocols must rely on commercial resources (e.g., ship tender, chartered standby vessel, chartered airlift) for unavoidable medical evacuation at sea and be designed to minimize the burden to the greatest extent possible on Federal, State, and Local government resources, including U.S. Coast Guard resources.

Housing Arrangements 

The cruise lines must make agreements with one or more shoreside facilities for isolation and quarantine of person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and their close contacts. The shoreside housing must meet CDC guidelines for the isolation ad quarantine, including sperate bedroom, bathrooms and living space.

Issues Raised By the New Guidance – Who Will Pay for Hospital, Medical and Travel Costs When Passengers Become Infected?

The technical guidance is silent regarding who must pay for the cost of  medical treatment and housing of those passengers and crew members infected with the virus. The CDC also does not explain who will bear the costs of the housing, food and living expenses of those required to be isolated and quarantined. Under the General Maritime Law governing crew members, the maritime employer (i.e., cruise line) must provide for all expenses related to the medical treatment of a crew member. But it is less than clear who will be responsible for such costs related to a guest who contracts coronavirus on a ship. If there is not a clear requirement that the cruise lines pay for these costs, then the cruise line will look to the passengers. Most health insurance policies typically do not cover shipboard medical problems, particularly during a pandemic. Most travel insurance policies exclude COVID-19 liabilities.

Guests who find themselves infected during a cruise and have to return to port and be quarantined, will find themselves with uninsured medical, housing, and travel expenses and unable to exercise their legal rights if the anticipated liability waivers are upheld.

There is language in the “Royal Promise” drafted by Royal Caribbean for sailing 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 require onboard medical expenses, evacuation and quarantine which exceed $20,000 USD, which is arguably not sufficient to cover such emergency expenses. The “promise” relates to only “onboard” medical expenses and does not appear to cover any “shore-side” medical expenses or hospital costs.

Royal Caribbean misleadingly promises that “We’ll Never Stop Taking Care of You.” But it truth the cruise line will stop paying for any medical expenses the moment you leave the cruise ship where you were infected. An infected guest and his or her family who incur evacuation, emergency room and intensive care treatment, medicines, intubation and a respirator potentially face catastrophic uninsured expenses in a worse case scenario.

Will Cruise Fans Agree to be Vaccinated?

There are a number of cruise fans who have voiced their frustration over not being permitted to immediately resume vacationing again at sea. There is a significant number of people who have decided not to be vaccinated. A Gallup poll finds that those who agreed to be vaccinated (91%) versus those who will not (51%) are split along Democrat and Republican lines. Royal Caribbean recently faced a boycott call on Twitter when it announced that will begin sailing from Nassau in June and its passengers are required to be vaccinated. Read: Notorious Fringe Doctor Calls for Boycott of Royal Caribbean on Twitter.

Complicating matters is the fact that a significant number of people in Florida support Governor DeSantis’ recent executive order prohibiting mandatory vaccinations of Florida residents. At the same time. Governor DeSantis joined a laundry list of Republican politicians like Senators Rick Scott, Marco Rubio, Lisa Murkowski, and Dan Sullivan and Representatives Gus Bilirakis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos A. Gimenez, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Maria Elvira Salazar, Michael Waltz and Don Young in placing pressure on the CDC to drop all conditions and permit cruise ships to sail from U.S. ports. Governor DeSantis went as far as to threatened to sue the CDC if it did not cave into the Republican demands. Ironically, DeSantis efforts to rally anti-vaxxers against vaccine passports effectively undercuts his efforts to re-open cruising from Florida and the rest of the U.S.

The Ball is Back in the Cruise Lines’ Lap

Will the cruise lines choose to be in compliance with the CDC? Will they devote the necessary time and effort to make the appropriate arrangements to arrange with all port and health authorities to provide vaccinations of passengers, crew members and port personnel, as well as medical treatment and housing for those individuals who become infected with COVID-19? Or will they take their ships and home-port them in Mexico and the Caribbean? Will the recent move by Royal Caribbean (and Crystal Cruises) of home porting a cruise ship in the Bahamas to dodge the CDC’s authority be the next trend by the foreign-incorporated and flagged cruise industry?

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Image Credit: Port of Miami (top) –  Marc Averette – CC BY 3.0, commons / wikimedia; CDC Logo – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Public Domain, commons / wikimedia; ; medical evacuation for cruise passengers at port of Miami – CHARLES TRAINOR JR/ Miami Herald; CoCo Cay – Royal Caribbean via Avoiding the CDC, Royal Caribbean to Begin Cruises from the Caribbean.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis threatened today to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Federal government if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not permit cruise ship to sail from ports in Florida by this summer.

DeSantis, who has a history of mocking the CDC, appeared with executives from Carnival, Norwegian, Disney, Royal Caribbean and MSC cruise lines at Port Canaveral. He repeated the talking points that the cruise industry unsuccessfully made this past week to try and convince the CDC to to lift its conditional sailing order (CSO) and permit cruise ships to resume sailing from U.S. ports effective July 1, 2021.

DeSantis said that cruising has resumed with restrictions and protocols in much of the world. He repeated the Cruise Line International Association’s (CLIA) false “claim that there have been no new outbreaks tied to their ships.”

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).

ABC News cited the opinions of an epidemiologist from the University of Florida who defended the restriction on cruising, “saying it is still too early for cruise ships to operate. Unlike other modes of transportation . . .  groups on cruises mingle and dine together for long periods, increasing the likelihood of spread, she said, and testing and symptom screening are not perfect methods of prevention.” A flight from Atlanta to Miami takes just two hours compared to a one week (168 hours) cruise from Miami to the Caribbean during which thousand of passengers and crew members from around the world congregate in indoor bars and restaurants.

ABC News pointed out that none of the cruise line executives at the roundtable meeting in Port Canaveral suggested that vaccines should be required as a condition to cruise if cruise ship were permitted to resume sailing from U.S. ports. Significantly, “DeSantis expressed opposition to requiring vaccination for participation in the economy,” according to the news outlet.

The Sun Sentinel reported that DeSantis “used the event as an opportunity to take shots at the Biden administration.” He said that President Biden “. . .  doesn’t even care that people are hurting or that people aren’t able to work.”

Of course, it is DeSantis who is the politician who has demonstrated his disregard for matters of public health and the authority of the CDC. He routinely makes a point of appearing in public not wearing a mask. Five months ago, I wrote this about DeSantis:

“Governor DeSantis has always been an open-the-economy-up advocate who often appears in the public without wearing a mask.  Two weeks ago, he attended a political rally in Florida where he was filmed not wearing a mask, ‘high-fiving’ others without masks in the crowed and then rubbing his nose.”

DeSantis gave a State of the State address three weeks ago where he congratulated himself on opening Florida up, notwithstanding a deadly, worldwide pandemic. He refused to implement a mask policy in the state and would not permit any state officials (such as the mayor of Miami Beach) to enforce the wearing of face coverings. The result, as the Miami Herald called it in an editorial,  was “rowdy COVID super-spreader crowds at beaches around the state.”

You can watch other videos of the mask-less out-of-control party goers at South Beach courtesy of Governor DeSantis here.

Five months ago, DeSantis touted that he was working closely with then President Trump to open the state of Florida up and  “to get cruise ship industry running again.”

The COVID19 pandemic spiked in the Fall last year as the U.S. remained split on basic issues such as the wearing of masks and social distancing. The debate still exists today and often falls along political lines between those who see the wearing of a mask as a responsible measure to protect others versus those who believe that it is a political statement against the ex-president. I wrote at the time:

“The question which the cruise lines need to ask themselves is whether they want their public image to be aligned in the future with such foolish politicians. The current (i.e., Trump) administration will not last forever. An important issue to the cruise lines is whether the public believes that cruising can take place in a reasonably safe manner.

What effect does the image of a governor, wading through a crowd with no one wearing masks as he shakes hands with the onlookers and then rubs his nose, have on those weighing whether it’s safe to cruise?  Everyone who watches this instantly knows that it is not safe to do what the governor just did.”

This mask-less governor of Florida, not the CDC, is responsible for thousands of mask-less spring breakers running wild on South Beach. And it’s this fool who the public should now trust to say when its safe to restart cruises from this state?

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Image Credit: Governor DeSantis – WKMG-TV via News 4 Jacksonville;

Carnival Cruise Line posted a video of President Christine Duffy yesterday stating that (1) it hasn’t made a decision to require vaccines, and (2) it won’t sail from non-U.S. home ports (like Royal Caribbean / Celebrity are going to do in the Bahamas and St. Martin).

(1) My view is that Carnival Cruise Line wants to keep its options open to attract anti-vaxxers as customers. Fully vaccinated passengers and guests are obviously the only way to even think that cruising may safely begin in the future.

(2) Carnival Cruise Line is one of the Carnival Corporation owned cruise lines which is on criminal probation for pollution and disregarding the authority of the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Justice, and U.S. Federal District Court. An ongoing issue in the pending case against Carnival is compliance with the U.S. government’s rules and regulations protecting the health and safety of the U.S. public. Chairman Mickey Arison and CEO Arnold Donald do not want to risk being accused again of ignoring another U.S. federal agency like the U.S. CDC, as Royal Caribbean / Celebrity are doing by planning to sail from non-U.S. home ports in the Bahamas and St. Martin.

Ms. Duffy goes to great length to claim that Carnival is “America’s cruise line” which sails from 14 U.S. ports. A friend of mine commented: “America’s cruise line? A foreign-flagged, foreign-crewed, foreign corporation that avoids US taxes.” She’s right of course, Carnival Cruise Line is a Panamanian corporation which registers its cruise ships in either Panama or the Bahamas in order to avoid not only U.S. taxes, but U.S. wage and labor laws, U.S. occupational health and safety laws, and U.S. environmental laws.

Loyalty to “America” is hardly this corporation’s motivation not to set up home ports in Mexico and throughout the Caribbean. It is just a smart move not to incur the wrath of the Chief Judge of the U.S. federal court here in Miami who has already sanctioned Carnival for lying to the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Video credit: Carnival Cruise Line via Alanna Zingano YouTube page.

Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, received compensation in the staggering amount of $36,400,000 in 2020, consisting primarily of nearly $18,000,000 in stock awards, according to a recent Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing. The news was initially reported by the cruise trade publication Cruise Industry News.

CEO Del Rio is by far the highest paid cruise executive in the world. In the last three years alone, Del Rio took home over $76,000,000 in income. Including his 2015 income of $31,900,000, he collected over $108,000,000 for four years, including $22,590,000 in 2018, $17,808,000 in 2019,and $36,400,000 in 2020. He collected $2,900,000 in 2016 and $10,490,000 in 2017.

Last year, Del Rio was the highest paid CEO of all businesses in Florida, cruise lines or otherwise, when he collected a whopping $22,590,000.

In 2018, Del Rio’s compensation of $22,590,000 was over one thousand times more than the median wages of a NCL crew member who earned an annual income of a little less than $17,000 according to information submitted to the SEC by NCL. A NCL median employee was defined in SEC filings as a “full-time employee located on one of the NCL ships with an annual total compensation of $16,925 for 2019.”  This resulted in a compensation ratio between CEO Del Rio and a median crew members of “1,052 to 1” for 2018, according to the SEC filing.

Considering that the average crew members in 2020 probably collected only around $4,000 until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first no-sail order in March, CEO Del Rio’s $36,400,000 results in a compensation ratio with a median crew members of well over 9,000 to 1.

In 2020, Del Rio collected a total of around $24,374,000 in stock awards (over $17,952,000) incentive payments ($3,600,000) and bonuses ($2,824,495) as part of his overall compensation, despite NCL’s disastrous financial performance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also collected “other compensation” of $10,476,999 bringing his total income to of $36,400.000.

Last year, NCL suffered a net loss of $4,000,000,000 (billion) compared to net income in 2019 of $930,200,000. As of December 31, 2020, NCL had total debt of $11,800,000,000 (billion) and cash of only $3,300,000,000. NCL is facing a cash burn rate of $190,000,000 a month, excluding non-recurring debt modification costs.

Although NCL and most other cruise lines talk about “pent-up demand” for cruising, NCL announced that its booking for the second half of this year were below historical levels.

NCL’s excessive executive salary occurred while there are thousands of unemployed crew members and shoreside employees due to the pandemic. NCL stopped paying its crew members early last year and eventually repatriated them to their home countries. NCL touted in a press release last month that its “actions to enhance liquidity” (by raising money via stock sales, taking on credit, amending credit agreements, deferring new-build payments, and reducing or deferring payment of marketing and other expenses) included extending “salary reductions and furloughs for certain shoreside team members.” One wonders whether any of the NCL office workers and sales representatives have any idea that their CEO collected record breaking income for 2020 while their meager salaries were reduced or they were fired?

The irony of Del Rio receiving his monstrous income is that NCL almost single handedly cemented the reputation of the cruise industry being non-compliant with the CDC’s cruise-related COVID protocols. NCL and Del Rio in particular demonstrated a combative and defiant attitude toward the CDC:

  • Last April, ex-president Trump named Del Rio to his “Great American Economic Revival” Industry Group. Del Rio admired the ex-president who advocated fewer regulations and pro-business tax cuts. Del Rio was one of several cruise executives who refused to publicly acknowledge or support the CDC’s  extension of the “no-sail” order to July 24, 2021. Like the other CEO’s, he publicly disputed the CDC’s conclusion that “cruise ship travel markedly increases the risk and impact of the COVID19 disease outbreak in the United States.”
  • In May, NCL permitted its crew members to crowd together without masks during several parties  on the Norwegian Escape (above left) and Norwegian Epic (below 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). NCL also ignored the DCD’s instructions that crew members should not be forced to live together in solo internal cabins on the NCL ships. This was reckless and a clear violation of the CDC’s guidelines.
  • Del Rio claimed, even before his hired experts prepared a single protocol designed to reduce the spread of the virus, that a cruise ship can be “safer than anywhere else in the world.
  • In May, CEO Del Rio characterized the CDC 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.” 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.
  • In July, when NCL announced its preliminary COVID-19 protocols which NCL called its “Peace of Mind Safe Sail” measures, there was no mention of the wearing of face protection recommended by the CDC.
  • Later in July, Del Rio said “one of the hallmarks of the cruise industry is that we always sail with full ships. It’s one of the basic tenets of our business model,” cruise executive Del Rio told the Financial Times. Lower capacities “would be a severe blow” to financial performance, he added. The CDC previously concluded that reducing the occupancy of ships was one of the integral first steps toward combating the spread of COVID-19. But fewer passengers means fewer cruises fares sold. And most significantly, reduced occupancy means reduced onboard revenue from alcohol sales, casinos, gift shops, specialty restaurants and shore excursions.

When the CDC extended the July 24, 2020 no-sail order, it “slammed” the cruise industry for spreading COVID-19 in a “scathing” order, according to the New York Times. The CDC cited many of NCL’s failures as justification for extending the order.

The New York Times published an article two weeks ago titled Anguish, Determination, Hope: Travel Workers Despair a Lost Year.  The first profile in the New York Times article focused on a  wine steward previously employed by NCL who worked for nearly 10 years to support his wife and four children. He writes “this is the first time I have not received any money for nearly one year. It is very, very challenging . . . now we cannot even afford our electricity bills and we are drowning in debt.”

Two weeks ago, we wrote about the CEO of Carnival Corporation, Arnold Donald, who took a well publicized but  modest pay cut. However, his stock award of over $12,228,000 increased his income last year from around $10,080,000 in 2019 to over $13,080,000. CEO Donald also oversaw substantial layoffs and reduction of salaries throughout the Carnival cruise brands.

In the final analysis, Mr. Donald, like Mr. Del Rio and perhaps all cruise executives, profited substantially last year while their companies’ employees and crew members continue to suffer greatly while facing an uncertain future.

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Photo credits: Frank Del Rio – CNBC Jim Cramer’s MAD Money May 7, 2020; – Frank Del Rio – Opening Bell, January 11, 2018 from CNBC.

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.

After Royal Caribbean recently announced that it would require all adult guests to be vaccinated as a prerequisite to cruising from Nassau, an outspoken critic of the coronavirus vaccine began a call to boycott the cruise line.

Dr. Simone Gold, whose Titter handle is @drsimonegold, called the COVID-19 vaccine “experimental” and asked her followers to “#BoycottRC.”

The post received over 8,251 likes and over 2,600 retweets and “quote tweets” and generated well over 3,100 comments since it was posted this weekend.

Yesterday, two major news outlets covered this rather bizarre story. Newsweek magazine published an article titled Royal Caribbean Faces Boycott as Only Vaccinated Adults Allowed on Cruise Ships. The U.K.’s Daily Mail published Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises Announce They Are Relaunching In June But You Can Travel Only If You Are COVID Vaccinated Sparking Calls To Boycott Firms For “Eroding Freedoms.”

Dr. Gold Simone Gold gained notoriety last year when she and other doctors of a fringe medical group were photographed attending a press conference organized by conservative activists in front of the Supreme Court to protest lockdowns and criticize efforts to stop the spread of the pandemic. A video of the event was retweeted by former president Trump. Dr. Gold has been labelled a “toxic purveyor of misinformation” after she advocated for the hydroxychloroquine drug championed by the former president as a cure for COVID-19. Dr. Gold was a staunch Trump supporter who entered the Capital during the violent insurrection on January 6,, 2021 and addressed the insurrectionists with a bullhorn. She was subsequently arrested by the FBI. Regarding her boycott efforts, she repeats her baseless claim that the Covid-19 vaccine is an “experimental biological agent.”

Dr. Gold’s “#BoycottRC” tweets appear to be part of her campaign of misinformation which has been retweeted largely by conservatives and Trump followers.

Others on Twitter commented about their “freedoms” being taken away, often with fanciful descriptions of totalitarian governments teaming up with corporations to steal their fundamental rights, including widespread conspiracy theories involving Pfizer and the Gates Foundation.

Another Twitter user, by the handle Patriot Takes @patriottakes, responded to Dr. Gold’s tweets with the comment “MAGAs are starting to boycott Royal Caribbean.”

Patriot Takes’ tweet has received 7,771 likes, over 800 retweets /  quoted tweets. Over 1,400 people commented on the tweet, including the comment above which was typical of many who said that they were actually more likely to go on a Royal Caribbean cruise if it meant that they were less likely to travel with a MAGA fan.

Notwithstanding the fact that Dr. Gold appears to be a marginal representative of a fringe group of anti-vaxxers, this development does not bode well for Royal Caribbean or other cruise lines which may subsequently require adults to be vaccinated. There is a substantial partisan split along party lines on receiving a Covid-19 vaccine.

Polls show that far more Democrats are likely to be vaccinated, compared to just one-half of Republicans. The vaccine hesitancy which is higher among Republicans than any other demographic group is borne out by a recent Axios / CIVIQS poll. A Gallup poll also showed that 91% of Democrats but only 51% of Republicans would agree to get vaccinated if the vaccine were available to them right now.

Are you more or less likely to go on a cruise where all adults passengers and all crew members are vaccinated?  Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Image Credit: Simone Gold in Capital Building – John Strand via FBI Arrest AffidavitWashington Post and Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images via the Guardian.

On Friday, Royal Caribbean Cruises announced that it will begin cruising from Nassau. Starting on June 12th, Royal Caribbean will sail its Adventure of the Seas on seven-night cruises from the cruise ship’s new home port in the Bahamas. The cruise line also announced that its sister company, Celebrity Cruises, will start sailing the Celebrity Millennium cruise ship on week-long cruises from St. Maarten on June 5th.

The Miami Herald explains that the Adventure of the Seas (photo above) will stop at Royal Caribbean’s private island CoCo Cay (photo right) in the Bahamas, as well as Grand Bahama Island and Cozumel, Mexico. The Celebrity Millennium cruises will visit Aruba, Curaçao and Barbados on one itinerary and Tortola, St. Lucia and Barbados on another.

Vaccinated Adults / Un-Vaccinated Children

For all such cruises, crew members and passengers older than 18 will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Minors, however, will be permitted to sail without a vaccine provided that they submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of boarding.

Frustrated with the CDC

Royal Caribbean’s announcement that it intends to resume cruising from these new home ports in the Caribbean reflects its frustration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) whose orders directly affect only cruise ships sailing from U.S. ports. The CDC announced last October that cruise lines sailing from U.S. ports must comply with the conditions set forth in the CDC’s conditional sail order.

The first part of the 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 CDC spokesperson 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.

“I think we’re increasingly anxious and a little impatient waiting for (CDC) guidance,” Royal Caribbean International President Michael Bayley told the Washington Post in an interview last Friday. Royal Caribbean’s frustration with not being able to sail its ships without CDC restrictions has led to it deciding to resume cruising in jurisdictions where it can basically do as it pleases, such as St. Martin and the Bahamas. This permits the company to substitute its thought process for that of the CDC regarding such things as the wearing of masks, social distancing and the capacity of its ships, among other issues.  The Miami Herald reports that Royal Caribbean “is still determining whether it will require crew and passengers to wear masks and how full the ships will be.”

Will Royal Caribbean Still Follow Its Healthy Sail Panel Recommendations?

Royal Caribbean has invested in COVID-19 protocols which are found in a comprehensive report prepared by its so-called Healthy Sail Panel. As reported by USA Today last September, Royal Caribbean said that it’s also Healthy Sail Panel recommendations would including face coverings and other protocols. But there is no indication that the company will follow these protocols on cruises that do not leave from or call on a U.S. port.

This sets up a potentially disastrous situation where Royal Caribbean may subsequently not require its crew or passengers to wear masks, which polls indicate are unpopular with guests. Of course, COVID-19 vaccinations do not mean that the crew members or passengers cannot be infected or transmit the virus. The CDC requires the wearing of masks on all forms of transportation, whether involving a train, plane or ship, including all transportation hubs.

The fact that Royal Caribbean is permitting minors to cruise only on a showing of a negative COVID-19 tests within three days of cruising is also potentially dangerous.  As cruising outside of the U.S. has revealed, coronavirus tests can yield false results and/or there is always the risk of infection after the test while traveling in public spaces to the cruise terminal. There is a risk of a minor becoming infected after he is tested while flying to the Caribbean port. To the extent that the passenger is tested after arriving in Nassau, that test may not pick up recent infections and there also remains a chance of infection while in the terminal en route to the cruise ship.

Several Millions of Children Have Been Infected with COVID-19 in the U.S.

COVID-19 infection is children is a very real phenomenon that is not often discussed by the major media outlets. The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled detailed data which indicates that there have been 3,284,531 child COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S., comprising 13.2% of the 24,806,402 cases in the U.S. to date.  There have been several hundred deaths of children due to COVID-19, as the data shows.

Children who cruise will undoubtedly interact with other unvaccinated children, as well as with vaccinated adults who can still transmit the virus, while traveling through airports and on planes to the Caribbean and on the cruise itself. This is a recipe for infection.

There is also no indication whether the cruise guests will be barred from going ashore on excursions, thereby increasing their own risk of infection as well potentially exposing the citizens in the port communities. There are no such restrictions mentioned in Royal Caribbean’s on-line advertisements.

Few Vaccinations in the Bahamas and Mexico

The Bahamas vaccination rate is extremely low with less than one (1) percent of Bahamians vaccinated to date. Mexico’s vaccination rate is also very low with less than four (4) percent of its citizens vaccinated. There have been at least 2,193,600 cases of the coronavirus in Mexico with 197,827 people dead due to the virus, according to the New York Times.

Sending children, who are unvaccinated, into these countries with such low vaccination rates is utter folly. Royal Caribbean is asking the public to ignore the CDC’s recommendation that “all people avoid travel on cruise ships,” notwithstanding the agency’s jurisdiction over air carriers flying from and to U.S. cities.

No Local COVID-19 Infections in Singapore

The Points Guy interviewed Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of hotel operations, Mark Tamis, about the fact that the company was skirting the CDC’s jurisdiction by resuming its U.S. cruise operations from ports in the Caribbean. Tamis coyly wouldn’t say “if the agency approved of the move.”

Tamis touted Royal Caribbean’s success in cruising from Singapore, but this could not be a more misleading comparison. Singapore currently has virtually no local coronavirus cases (with only a dozen or so imported cases). It has the world’s lowest COVID-19 mortality rate of only 30 deaths for the past year of its over 5,700,000 inhabitants due to its excellent mask culture, compared to over 542,000 deaths of U.S. citizens with nearly 30,000,000 infected in the U.S. over the last year.

No Boarding or Medical Arrangements Made So Far – Who Will Pay the Costs When a Passenger Become Infected?

By establishing home ports in St. Martin and the Bahamas, Royal Caribbean is able to avoid the CDC’s requirement that cruise lines make pre-arrangements to house those cruise guests who become infected with facilities ashore to provide housing and medical treatment. It is unclear what, if any, arrangements Royal Caribbean has made if and when a guest become ill during a cruise from St. Martin or the Bahamas. If a child or other passenger becomes symptomatic while the ship is in Bahamian waters, where will Royal Caribbean quarantine the passenger and his close contacts? Where will the guests be quarantined when the ship is sailing to Mexico? I can not think of any other country less likely to provide quality medical treatment than these two countries, no matter how gracious their citizens may be. And who will pay for the accommodations and the cost of medical treatment as well as the costs of flying home?  If left to its own devices, Royal Caribbean will likely pass these costs on to its guests.

Cruising From Nassau – Increased Costs and Risk of Infection

A reader of this blog send me the link to Royal Caribbean’s announcement of these cruises on its so-called Volunteers of the Seas Facebook page, which struck me as disturbing. This comment from a Royal Caribbean fan of the page is perhaps most insightful:
“This is the most ridiculous thing I have heard of! Can’t wait to see the prices for this…pay for a flight to Bahamas just to cruise through and around the bahamas pay for coco cay, fly on a plane with unvaccinated people and cruise with children unvaccinated while still able to contract the virus and spread it. Then find out you did contract it from either plane or child and not be sick at all but have to have a covid test before fly home and then get stuck in the bahamas until you can prove a negative covid test! I’ll just take a regular vacation thanks!”

The fact that Royal Caribbean decided to resume its U.S. cruising from ports in the Caribbean aligns perfectly with its basic business model. It incorporated in Liberia (Africa) and registered its ships in the Bahamas in order to avoid all U.S. income taxes, U.S. labor and wage laws, U.S. occupational health and safety laws, and U.S. environmental protections. Dodging science-based health and safety restrictions by the CDC is just more business as usual by this Liberian corporation.

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Image credit: Adventure of the Seas – Master0Garfield CC BY-SA 4.0, wikipedia / commons; CoCo Cay – Royal Caribbean.