The cruise industry has been stuck in limbo for the past year. They have been waiting for CDC guidance on exactly how, and with what procedures, cruise operators will be permitted to sail again. All they have gotten for months is a constant stream of changing rules, empty promises, and conflicting regulations.
If you can’t beat them, move elsewhere.
Cruise lines all over the world are finding ways to begin sailing again. The biggest way is for ships to either “cruise to nowhere,” in other words leave, sail around, and then return to the same port, or they set sail from a port, hit several ports within the same nation, then return.
Already, cruises have popped up in Singapore and will begin in May in Israel, countries where virus rates are low and vaccine rates are high. The UK recently determined ocean voyages for domestic passengers could resume in May, leading lines such as P&O, Cunard, Fred. Olsen, MSC, Princess and Viking to announce domestic, “round Britain” cruises exclusively for UK residents.
The United States cannot allow this, because of a pair of little known laws that were passed over a century ago in order to guarantee the profits of the robber barons and their railroad empires: The Passenger vehicle Service Act and the Jones Act.
The Passenger Vehicle Service Act states that passengers traveling between U.S. ports must do so on ships that were built in the U.S., are owned by U.S. companies (ensuring that they pay US taxes), and that adhere to the strict U.S. Coast Guard regulations to be registered (flagged) in the United States. The Jones Act prohibits the transport of goods between two U.S. ports by ships that are not owned, built and flagged in the U.S.
What this means is that ships can’t cruise from one port to the other within the US, and the CDC is no longer allowing ships to go from any US port to another country, because COVID.
Since they cannot cruise out of ports in the US, cruise lines are taking their show on the road. Crystal Cruises is sailing out of the Bahamas, Celebrity is sailing at least one ship out of St Maarten, and Royal Caribbean will soon be sailing out of the Bahamas. Plans are already in the works to homeport more than one cruise line out of Cozumel.
The longer the CDC delays on its industry guidance, the more this trend will continue. As long as cruising remains on-pause within the United States due to the CDC’s long-standing No-Sail order, it is clear that more and more lines will go abroad to restart operations. And that will hurt U.S. homeports and American workers.
The United States is increasingly making themselves irrelevant in the cruise industry. Since 9/11, the primary focus for the cruise industry has been American cruise ports that do not require domestic flights for a majority of passengers. These homeports and their related itineraries haven’t measurably changed in two decades.
All of that is changing because of Government action, or rather, inaction. Until the CDC begins working more proactively with the industry, providing technical guidance on restart that still has yet to be delivered to cruise lines nearly five months after they were promised, things will not improve.
The lines are continuing to seek dialogue with the government, to no avail. Cruise lines are also subject to extensive regulations from the CDC that do not apply to other businesses or forms of travel, including hotel, resort or airline industries. Many of the protocols put in place by the cruise lines, like a vaccination mandate for both guests and workers, as well as robust and mandatory PCR testing, are not required for other forms of travel or high risk industries.