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Norwegian Cruise Line Asks CDC For Permission to Sail In July

Bruce Parkinson

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When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally released guidance for the next steps toward a relaunch of cruising from U.S. ports late last week, reaction from the industry and its stakeholders was a collective groan.

MORE: Norwegian Requires Mandatory Vaccines

Shortly after the CDC revised its COVID-19 guidance to say traveling is “low risk” for fully vaccinated people and they should not be subject to testing or quarantine requirements, the agency released onerous instructions on next steps for cruise lines. The guidance is being seen by many observers as “vague” and “not providing a clear path forward.”

norwegian pearl

Norwegian Pearl

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. responded boldly today with its own plan — one that challenges the public health agency to live by its own words. 

The company, which operates the Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands, says it is ready to relaunch in July, with a 100 percent guest and crew vaccination requirement. The plan also states that NCLH vessels would begin cruise operations at an initial reduced capacity of 60 percent, gradually ramping up the number of ships departing from U.S. ports and increasing capacity by 20 percent every 30 days.

NCLH says its plan “shares in the spirit and exceeds the intent of the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), which was released over five months ago and updated for the first time last week.

“Mandatory Vaccinations Eliminate Need For Conditional Sail Order”

”Norwegian trusts and is optimistic the CDC will agree that mandatory vaccination requirements eliminate the need for the CSO and therefore requests for the lifting of the order for Norwegian’s vessels, allowing them to cruise from U.S. ports starting July 4,” the company said in a statement. 

NCLH president and CEO Frank Del Rio says the cruise sector deserves equal treatment with other parts of the travel industry.

“We congratulate the CDC on the steps it has taken to further open travel for vaccinated Americans. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings shares the CDC’s view that vaccinations are the primary vehicle for Americans to get back to their everyday lives,” Del Rio said.

”We believe that through a combination of 100% mandatory vaccinations for guests and crew and science-backed public health measures as developed by the Healthy Sail Panel, led by former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Scott Gottlieb, we can create a safe, ‘bubble-like’ environment for guests and crew. We look forward to joining the rest of the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors in participating in this next phase of our recovery.”

Del Rio argues that cruise lines have gone farther than other segments in creating “a uniquely safe and healthy vacation experience.”

the haven courtyard norwegian bliss

Norwegian Bliss The Haven Courtyard

Cruise Protocols Stronger Than Sectors Already Reopened

“Our robust and comprehensive SailSAFE health and safety program extends well beyond the protocols of the travel, leisure and hospitality sectors, all of which have already reopened including hotels and resorts, casinos, restaurants, sporting venues, theme parks and airlines,” Del Rio added. 

He acknowledges that the risk of COVID-19 cannot be eliminated in its entirety, but points out that over the past eight months the cruise industry has successfully carried nearly 400,000 passengers in more than 10 major cruise markets outside the United States with only a few isolated COVID-19 cases. Del Rio adds that those cases “were effectively identified, contained, and mitigated without impacting the health or interrupting the vacations of others.” 

It’s also worth noting that these 400,000 passengers traveled prior to the availability of widespread vaccinations.

Details on NCLH’s SailSAFE program can be found here.

NCLH’s full letter to the CDC is below:

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky

Director, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Re:  Our plan to join America’s national opening this summer

Dear Dr. Walensky:

In the ongoing spirit of cooperation between Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (“NCLH”) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), and out of deference and respect for the career CDC scientists working tirelessly on behalf of all Americans, I write to advise you that NCLH has developed a comprehensive and robust science-backed plan that should become the model for how the travel and hospitality industry operates in a COVID-19 environment and which will be mutually beneficial for the public health mission that you and your agency are dedicated to serving and to NCLH’s various constituencies.

As you know, NCLH is the parent company of three cruise brands, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. On March 13, 2020, prior to the CDC issuing its first No Sail Order, NCLH suspended all cruise operations across our three brands worldwide in an effort to do our part as a responsible corporate citizen to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Nearly 13 months later, we believe, that in light of the current health trends, buttressed by the more than 650 million vaccines administered worldwide to date, it is time for NCLH to join the rest of the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors in participating in this next phase of our recovery.

We congratulate you and the CDC on the important steps taken to further facilitate safe travel for vaccinated Americans, as announced on April 2, 2021. NCLH shares your view that vaccinations are the primary vehicle for Americans to get back to their everyday lives while containing the spread of the virus. We have worked tirelessly to ensure that our resumption of operations is guided by science and prioritizes the health and safety of our passengers, crew and the communities we visit. Most importantly, because our return to service plan mandates that the entire population onboard our vessels be vaccinated, our plan reduces the risk of outbreaks and severe COVID-19 cases. 

Accordingly, we will not require federal, state or local governments to incur time and/or resources in providing medical assistance to our brands’ guests as we have invested tens of millions of dollars in enhanced onboard health and safety protocols, including, but not limited to, enhanced hospital grade air filtration systems, cutting-edge contact tracing technology and significantly upgraded ICU and quarantine medical facilities. 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. 

With these as our guiding principles, we are pleased to outline our plan to safely resume cruising:

  • NCLH will require that all guests embarking from a U.S. port and/or disembarking to a U.S. port provide proof of having been fully vaccinated with an FDA-, EMA-, or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine no less than two weeks prior to their departure date;
  • All crew on NCLH vessels will be fully vaccinated with an FDA-, EMA- or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior to commencement of their duties onboard their assigned vessel;
  • NCLH will also incorporate and operationalize the protocols developed by the Healthy Sail Panel (“HSP”), led by former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Scott Gottlieb. These protocols, include universal testing of guests and crew, combined with required vaccines for all guests and crew, thereby creating a safe, “bubble-like” environment; and
  • On or about July 4, 2021, 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.

These stringent requirements will remain in place until public health conditions allow for the implementation of more lenient protocols.

We have published the complete SailSAFE health and safety program on our website and attach a copy to this letter.

“By requiring full and complete vaccinations of guests and crew, we believe our extensive health and safety standards share in the spirit and exceed the intent of the CDC’s existing Conditional Sailing Order (“CSO”) to advance public health goals and to protect guests, crew and the communities we visit. Therefore, we respectfully request the CDC lift the CSO for all NCLH cruise vessels departing from U.S. ports effective July 4, 2021.”

We trust that you will agree that our protocols extend well beyond the protocols of other travel, leisure and hospitality sectors, all of which have already reopened, including hotels and resorts, casinos, restaurants, sporting venues, theme parks and airlines. We believe that a cruise ship with a fully vaccinated population when combined with the virus protection defenses provided by the HSP protocols is one of the safest vacation options available.

With vaccine mandates and strict health and safety protocols in place, we are confident of our ability to provide a uniquely safe and healthy vacation environment. These mitigation protocols will minimize, to the greatest extent possible, further infection and spread of COVID-19. With our vessels back in operation, we will not only reinstate tens of thousands of American jobs and meet the significant American consumer’s demand for cruising, but also re-contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy as the industry resumes cruise operations.

We look forward to continued partnership with the CDC in recommencing operations with 100% vaccinated guests and crew aboard. Independent of the pandemic, our primary responsibility remains the safety and welfare of our guests and crew. Recognizing our shared responsibility to health and safety standards — those which exceed the mandated regulations set for other dining, entertainment, travel and tourism enterprises — we embrace these guidelines and view them as opportunities to strengthen public health measures and restore public confidence in our industry and the broader travel sector as a whole.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Frank Del Rio 

President and CEO 

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings

READ MORE: The Cruise-to-Nowhere Battle Cruise Lines Need to Wage

Bruce Parkinson has written about cruising and the broader international travel industry for more than 25 years.

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