Exclusive: Cruise industry extends sailing suspension past CDC 'no-sail' order, until Oct. 31

Morgan Hines

The cruise industry voluntarily suspended voyages in U.S. waters until "at least" Oct. 31, a month past the date the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's "no-sail" order is set to expire. 

"We believe it is prudent at this time to voluntarily extend the suspension of U.S. oceangoing cruise operations to Oct. 31," Cruise Lines International Association, the major trade organization for oceangoing cruise lines, said in a statement provided by Bari Golin-Blaugrund, senior director of strategic communications.

CLIA's member lines carry 95% of the world's oceangoing cruisers. The new order will apply to all CLIA member ships the CDC order applies to – vessels that can carry 250 or more passengers.

But the extension comes with caveats. The restart date, Nov. 1, isn't set in stone. The organization will evaluate the situation and said it will announce whether a further extension will be necessary on or before Sept. 30, the day the CDC's "no-sail" order is scheduled to end. If conditions in the USA change to allow short, modified sailings, it will consider an earlier restart.

"The extension will allow additional time for our oceangoing members to work with outside experts and partners to develop enhanced public health protocols," Golin-Blaugrund told USA TODAY. 

Coronavirus cases started to pop up on ships that resumed operations around the world. CLIA said in the statement that extending its sailing suspension, which has been in place since March 14, demonstrates "the cruise industry’s commitment to public health."

In June, CLIA announced its member cruise lines would voluntarily suspend operations until Sept. 15, before the CDC announced its "no-sail" order extension, which the industry group then aligned itself with. 

The decision to extend the suspension was a difficult one, CLIA said in the statement. The pandemic has devastated the cruising community, which typically generates nearly $53 billion to the U.S. economy annually, according to its most recent economic impact study. According to the organization, each day of the suspension results in a loss of $110 million and 800 "direct and indirect" American jobs. By the time CLIA's suspension expires, the industry will have been shut down for more than seven months.

The CDC supports CLIA's decision to voluntarily extend its suspension of operations, the organization said in a statement provided to USA TODAY by spokesperson Caitlin Shockey on Wednesday.

"The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world with no as-yet proven treatment or vaccine," the CDC said.

The CDC added that it has "worked tirelessly day and night" to control coronavirus on cruise ships that remained at sea while at the same time protecting from the introduction of COVID-19 from ships into U.S. communities. 

"[The] CDC expended to date an estimated 45,000 personnel hours on cruise ship COVID-19 response since mid-March—in addition to the thousands of hours by other HHS components, the rest of the United States government, states, and local authorities," the organization said. 

The CDC added that it is in "regular" communication with the industry and is reviewing response plans submitted by cruise lines under its "no-sail" order. The CDC will continue to update recommendations as the situation between the pandemic and cruises evolves "especially if CLIA member lines should decide to consider an earlier restart with short, modified sailings."

Some of CLIA's member lines have already suspended operations through Oct. 31, such as Norwegian, Regent and Oceania.  Princess Cruises, a subsidiary of cruising giant Carnival, extended its operational pause in the USA through Dec. 15. 

On the heels of CLIA's announcement Wednesday, Carnival Cruise Line canceled sailings scheduled through Oct. 31, spokesperson Vance Gulliksen told USA TODAY.

All Royal Caribbean Group voyages except those departing from Australia and China are suspended through Oct. 31, Jonathon Fishman, spokesperson for the line, told USA TODAY after the CLIA suspension was announced.