CDC Issues Framework For Conditional Sailing Order For Cruise Ships

The once vibrant U.S. cruise industry has been sharply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.   On March 14, 2020, in response to the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) issued a No Sail Order effective for 30 days precluding cruise ship operations arriving or departing from U.S. ports.1  The CDC Director entered the No Sail Order to mitigate the threat of severe illness and death from COVID-19. The No Sail Order was renewed by the CDC on April 9, 2020, July 16, 2020, and September 30, 2020.2  Over the past eleven months, cruise ship operations were brought to a standstill.

 On October 30, 2020, pursuant to the Public Health Service Act,  42 U.S.C §§ 264 and 268, the CDC issued a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order  (“FCSO”)3 published in the Federal Register on November 4, 2020, for the express purpose of gradually resuming phased cruise ship sailing operations in the U.S. waters.4  The FCSO will remain in effect until (1) the CDC determines that COVID-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency; (2) the Order is modified by the CDC Director; or (3) on November 1, 2021.  The stated purpose of the FCSO  is to avoid the “introduction, transmission, and spread of COVID-19 into and throughout the United States via cruise ships.” 5  The FCSO is applicable to any and all vessels operating in U.S. waters or that intend to operate in U.S. waters.  Cruise ship owners and operators must comply with stringent requirements to protect crewmembers as a condition of obtaining or applying for a COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate. 

Framework Requirements for Cruise Ship Operators

The FCSO requires that cruise ship operators must obtain a CDC signed Acknowledgement of No Sail Order Response Plan Completeness and Accuracy (the “Plan”) and carefully follow all aspects of the Plan.  FCSO also mandates crew testing and close monitoring of the health of the crew to safeguard against outbreaks and onboard transmission of the virus.

All cruise ship owners and operators are prevented from carrying passengers in U.S. waters without a COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate issued by the CDC.  As a condition to seeking CDC approval of the COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate, FCSO mandates that ship owners and operators must obtain written approval from port and local health authorities where the ship intends to dock or berth.  This approval includes arrangements for medical care, agreements for shoreside housing for the quarantine of exposed or infected individuals, and assurance from each port authority that the number of cruise ships will not overwhelm local medical facilities.  The FCSO also requires that each operator must screen passengers for exposure to COVID-19, maintain strict hygiene and social distancing protocols, and promptly conduct laboratory testing of passengers or crew who are symptomatic for illness.  In addition, FCSO contains minimum standards to manage passengers and crew from COVID-19 affected cruise ships.   Finally, FCSO contains provisions addressing the denial, suspension, revocation, and reinstatement of a COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate.  

Conclusion

FCSO is the  CDC’s first step to gradually restore cruise ship operations in the U.S. on a limited basis.  CDC’s paramount consideration is the protection of the health and safety of passengers, crew, and residents of U.S. ports of call from COVID-19.


1 The leading cruise industry trade group, Cruise Lines International Association (“CLIA”) voluntarily suspended cruise operations from U.S. ports on March 13, 2020 as a result of safety concerns regarding the pandemic.

2 The September 2020 No Sail Order expired on October 31, 2020.

3 https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/pdf/CDC-Conditional-Sail-Order_10_30_2020-p.pdf.  The Order was issued in accord with 42 C.F.R. §§ 70.2, 71.31(b), 71.32(b).

4 https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/11/04/2020-24477/framework-for-conditional-sailing-and-initial-phase-covid-19-testing-requirements-for-protection-of

5 https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/pdf/CDC-Conditional-Sail-Order_10_30_2020-p.pdf

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