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Coronavirus crisis: CDC extends ‘No Sail Order’ for cruise ships

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has extended a ‘No Sail Order’ for all cruise ships during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are working with the cruise line industry to address the health and safety of crew at sea as well as communities surrounding U.S. cruise ship points of entry,” Robert Redfield, CDC Director, said.

“The measures we are taking today (April 9) to stop the spread of COVID-19 are necessary to protect Americans, and we will continue to provide critical public health guidance to the industry to limit the impacts of COVID-19 on its workforce throughout the remainder of this pandemic.”

In recent weeks, at least ten cruise ships reported crew or passengers that tested positive or experienced respiratory symptoms or influenza-like illness. Currently, there are approximately 100 cruise ships remaining at sea off the East Coast, West Coast, and Gulf Coast, with nearly 80,000 crew onboard. Additionally, CDC is aware of 20 cruise ships at port or anchorage in the United States with known or suspected COVID-19 infection among the crew who remain onboard.

There are several public health concerns when crew members become ill while onboard the cruise ships. As one has seen with the passenger illness response on cruise ships, safely evacuating, triaging, and repatriating cruise ship crew has involved complex logistics, incurs financial costs at all levels of government, and diverts resources away from larger efforts to suppress or mitigate COVID-19. The addition of further COVID-19 cases from cruise ships also places healthcare workers at substantial increased risk, according to CDC.

Some of these ships off the coast of the United States have crew that are not critical to maintain the seaworthiness or basic safe operation of the cruise ships, such as the vessel’s hotel and hospitality staff. 

The CDC, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Homeland Security have been working with the industry to determine the most appropriate public health strategy to limit the impact of COVID-19 at cruise ship ports of entry in the United States. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) voluntarily suspended cruise ship operations in March in conjunction with the earlier No Sail Order issued March 14. The industry has since been working to build an illness response framework to combat COVID-19 on ships with international crew members who remain on board and at sea.

Specifically, the order ceases operations of cruise ships in waters in which the United States may exert jurisdiction and requires that they develop a comprehensive, detailed operational plan approved by CDC and the USCG to address the COVID-19 pandemic through maritime focused solutions.

The order will remain in effect until “the earliest of three situations” :

  • First, the expiration of the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration that COVID-19 constitutes a public health emergency;
  • Second, the CDC Director rescinds or modifies the order based on specific public health or other considerations;
  • Or third, 100 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.

The order says that cruise ship operators are not allowed to disembark passengers or crew at ports or stations, except as directed by the USCG, in consultation with HHS/CDC personnel, and as appropriate, as coordinated with federal, state, and local authorities. What is more, cruise lines should not embark or re-embark any crew member.

While in port, cruise ship operators should follow health precautions directed by HHS/CDC personnel. Additionally, operators are required to comply with all HHS/CDC, USCG, and other federal agency instructions to follow CDC recommendations and guidance for any public health actions relating to passengers, crew, ship, or any article or thing onboard the ship, as needed, including by making ship’s manifests and logs available and collecting any specimens for COVID-19 testing.

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