What’s going on in the Cruise Industry and our Club Cruises?

Introduction

It is a club tradition to organize a cruise every year. Needless to say, the advent of a global pandemic requires us to carefully follow developments concerning the cruise industry to guide planning future club cruises.

Below is a chronology of key developments regarding the cruise industry and club cruise events.

Diamond Princess Coronavirus Outbreak

On February 1, 2020, the first known case of a coronavirus infection on the cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, was reported.  The outbreak aboard that ship was an early Super Spreader event that led to nearly 700 cases and seven deaths from COVID-19. Genetic analysis indicated a single infected traveler spread the virus through mass gathering events. That outbreak led to isolating thousands of passengers on board the ship while moored in Japan for 11 days. Those passengers transported to the USA were quarantined for an additional two weeks. This incident was a well-publicized early event that alerted the world that the coronavirus extended beyond mainland China and was now a global pandemic.

Florida Tesla Enthusiasts Cruises during 2020 & 2021

Shortly after the outbreak on the Diamond Princess, on February 15, 2020, 19 of our members and their guests returned from a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Sky Princess, the newest ship in the Princess fleet. It wasn't until late January 2020 before the World Health Organization announced that the coronavirus posed a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. So, club members were unaware of the potential danger. To the best of my knowledge, no one was affected by the coronavirus. Following the cruise, as part of my routine bloodwork, I asked my doctor to order a COVID-19 test which came up negative.

We had such a good time aboard the Sky Princess that we planned another club cruise even before leaving the ship. It was scheduled for departure on February 13, 2021, aboard another brand new ship, the Enchanted Princess. Subsequently, in November 2020, Princess Cruises canceled the cruise in compliance with CDC requirements.

CDC No Sail & Conditional Sailing Orders

Due to the risk of introducing and spreading COVID-19, effective March 14, 2020, the CDC issued a No Sail Order for cruise ships. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the leading industry trade group, voluntarily suspended cruise ship operations from US ports and did not contest the order.

On October 30, 2020, the CDC issued a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order that requires cruise lines to abide by CDC-instituted requirements before a return to cruising.

Executive Order Banning Vaccination Certifications

On April 2, 2021, Governor DeSantis signed Executive Order 21-81. It prohibited state and local government agencies and businesses with state contracts from requiring so-called “vaccine passports” or documentation proving that someone has been vaccinated against COVID-19. In my communications with a nationally recognized legal expert on these matters, I was informed that the order was probably not enforceable for private businesses without state contracts since the order failed to specify penalties for them.

Norwegian Cruise Lines Proposal for Vaccination Certifications

On April 5, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings submitted a proposal that included 100% vaccination of guests and crew onboard, as well as strict health and safety protocols for all sailing through October 31, 2021.

Florida Lawsuit against the CDC

On April 8, 2021, Governor DeSantis announced that the state of Florida filed a lawsuit against the federal government and the CDC to end the halt on cruise industry operations imposed by the Conditional Sailing Order.

Florida Tesla Enthusiasts Planned Cruise during 2022

On April 24, 2021, we sent out an event announcement in which we scheduled a 10-day cruise onboard the Enchanted Princess departing on February 28, 2022. About two dozen members and their guests have registered for this cruise. 

CDC Conditionally Approval to Begin Passenger Voyages

On April 28, 2021, the CDC sent a letter to the cruise industry stating that sailing could start in July, and ships could skip the required simulated test voyages with volunteers and proceed to sailings with paying passengers if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers were fully vaccinated.

Senate Bill 2006 Strengthens Prohibitions on Vaccination Certifications

On May 3, 2021, the Governor signed into law Senate Bill 2006, effective July 1, 2021. This bill strengthened the executive order that prohibited COVID-19 vaccination certifications. Florida law already requires other types of vaccines for students to attend public schools. Nevertheless, this new law bars private businesses, schools, and government entities from asking anyone to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Violators can be fined up to $5,000. 

Since mandatory vaccination is a critical element of the cruise industry’s reopening plans, this new law is particularly problematic for the cruise industry.  

US District Court Upholds Florida’s Case Against the CDC

On June 18, 2021, US District Judge Steven Merryday issued a 124-page ruling that said the CDC overstepped its legal authority as it tried to prevent the spread of the virus. The injunction on CDC actions  becomes effective July 18, 2021.

US DOJ Appeals Lower-Court Ruling

On July 6, 2021, US Department of Justice attorneys filed a notice taking the case between Florida and the CDC to the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals. They argued that the lower-court ruling should be put on hold. If approved, it would put off the July 18, 2021 effective date while the case is pending at the appeals court. They wrote that ships have been approved or conditionally approved to begin passenger voyages.  

The Celebrity Edge is the first cruise ship to sail from a US Port for more than 15 months

On June 26, 2021 (prior to the effective date of Senate Bill 2006), the Celebrity Edge sailed from Port Everglades, Florida. It became the first cruise ship to sail from a US port with paying passengers in more than 15 months. The ship sailed with an almost 100% vaccinated crew, as well as its passengers.

The cruise adhered to the following safety and health protocols:

  • At least 95% of the guests and crew vaccinated
  • Reduced capacity
  • Contactless transactions aboard
  • Testing and onboard protocols for those unvaccinated

The Port Everglades Director of Operations said this first successful sailing will be an example for future sailings this year. He believes the docks at Port Everglades will be full again by September 2021. Our planned cruise onboard the Enchanted Princess will be sailing from Port Everglades. 

Norwegian Cruise Line Sue the Florida Surgeon General Over the “Vaccine-Passport” Ban

On July 13, 2021, Norwegian Cruise Line sued the Florida Surgeon General, challenging the state’s barring businesses from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccinations. The cruise line is maintaining its policy to require full vaccinations for all passengers, including children.

U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocks lower court order lifting CDC virus rules on cruise ships

On July 17, 2021, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked a previous ruling that sided with a Florida lawsuit challenging the CDC regulations. The one-paragraph decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was filed just minutes before a Tampa judge’s previous ruling suspending CDC restrictions was set to take effect. The judges’ issuance of a temporary stay keeps the CDC regulations regarding Florida-based cruise ships in place while the CDC appeals the June decision by U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday.

Cruise Lines International Association issues a statement

On July 19, 2921, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the leading industry organization, issued a statement:

CLIA ocean-going cruise line members resuming initial operations from Florida and all other U.S. ports will continue to operate in accordance with the CSO's [Conditional Sailing Order] requirements which govern during the industry's phased return to full service. This is consistent with the cruise industry's decades-long commitment to following the advice and guidance of scientists and public health experts.

Federal court lifts CDC rules for Florida-based cruise ships

Under a federal appeals court ruling on July 23, 2021, pandemic restrictions on Florida-based cruise ships were suspended, while the CDC seeks to fight a Florida lawsuit challenging the regulations. 

The CDC said that even though it cannot require cruise ships to abide by the sail order, it will enforce its separate transit mask requirements on cruise ships in Florida that opt not to follow the now voluntary program. The CDC stated that all cruise ships in Florida will still be required to report "individual cases of illness or death and ship inspections and sanitary measures to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases."

Passengers on cruise test positive for COVID-19

On July 30, 2021, passengers tested positive for coronavirus when returning from the Bahamas aboard Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas cruise ship. A total of six guests tested positive, four were fully vaccinated, and two were unvaccinated children. One of the four vaccinated guests had mild symptoms, and three were asymptomatic. The two unvaccinated children were also asymptomatic. 

The infections were detected during routine testing that was required of all guests before returning home. The guests were immediately quarantined, their immediate travel party and all close contacts were traced, and all tested negative. The six guests and their immediate travel parties disembarked in Freeport, Bahamas, and traveled home separately via private transportation.

All travelers age 16 and older were required to be fully vaccinated and test negative for COVID-19 before boarding, and all crew were fully vaccinated. (This mandatory vaccination requirement was possible because the cruise didn't originate in Florida, where a recent law prohibits mandatory certification.)

Although these positive tests are disappointing, the cruise line's robust COVID-19 measures ensured that the infections were isolated and didn't affect other passengers' health or cruise experience. It is also important to note that none of the infected passengers were seriously ill.

Conclusion

Although a legal dispute governing cruising from Florida ports between Florida and the CDC continues, I am confident that the issue will not affect our scheduled departure aboard the Enchanted Princess in February 2022. Regardless of the outcome of this legal battle, interim measures implemented by Princess Cruises should adequately address the safety of our fully vaccinated members and their guests.

It should be noted that the CDC Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) expires on October 31, 2021. As long as the CDC chooses not to extend the order, the Florida lawsuit against the CDC will be irrelevant. Since the CDC letter to the cruise industry has provided the cruise industry a means to avoid having to comply with the CSO requirements, there is good reason to believe that the ultimate outcome of the Florida suit will have no bearing on cruises.

Be well,

Larry Chanin

Vice President, Florida Tesla Enthusiasts

email:             lfchanin@gmail.com

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