This week’s Senate Transportation Committee meeting made painfully clear what the current state is of cruises leaving from Florida. It’s proving to be toilsome and there is a long road ahead before sailings can effectively resume.
Michael Rubin, the Florida Ports Council government representative, told members of the Senate committee that it would be months before a resumption will happen. It could also be 2022 or later before we see cruises on any significant level, let alone the same levels as pre-pandemic.
Are the CDC’s Measures Too Harsh?
If we look at the immediate start of cruises from Florida, it is starting to look as if the measures the CDC has implemented in its safe sailing framework are just too cumbersome for cruise lines to comply with within any reasonable timeframe. Multiple other issues also seem to be arising as time progresses.
The CDC’s measures for crew members and passengers include building onboard laboratory capacity to test passengers and conducting “simulated voyages” to look at cruise lines’ ability to mitigate COVID-19 risks on ships.
Arnold Donald, the Carnival Corporation CEO, said that the cruise lines are still waiting for further instructions on how to perform these test voyages.
According to multiple reports, Michael Rubin told the Senate committee the cruise lines and ports are working through an “onerous” list of requirements from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and hope to have at least some vessels operating at half capacity this summer.
Also Read: Why Haven’t We Had Any Test Cruises Yet?
While cruise lines hope to be bringing back crew members soon to commence and clear quarantine requirements, another issue that has arisen lately is what would happen if cruise ships visit foreign ports under the current travel restrictions.
All this is creating a situation where resumptions of cruises are at best months away:
“I’m not sure we’ll have significant cruise operations until perhaps next year and even beyond that. Some of the smaller luxury liners may not be operating until there are vaccines available worldwide. We are concerned. We’re hopeful that they’ll allow them to operate at least half capacity here maybe in April, maybe in June. Hopefully, before that timeframe, because this is really, really troubling.”
Florida Hit Hardest By Cruise-Stop
Rubin said that although the pandemic’s impact varies by port, combined, the financial impact could reach $22 billion. A port like Panama City (FL) is handling more cargo, while Port Canaveral’s operations traditionally involve cruise operations 70% of the time.
“That is a significant impact on Florida,” Rubin said. “Sixty percent of cruise activity occurs in Florida.”
If we look at the staggering numbers involved in the cruise industry in Florida, it is not hard to see the impact that the absence of cruises is having on local economies.
- The top three multi-day cruise ports are in Florida: Port Miami, Port Canaveral, and Port Everglades.
- In 2018, Florida had 59% of U.S. embarkations, over 7.5 million passengers
- Five of six ports in Florida are home ports to cruise ships. The sixth (Key West) is a regular port of call.
- The cruise industry is responsible for more than 149,000 jobs in Florida, $8.49 billion in direct spending, and $7.69 billion in wages each year.
The economic impact, which you can read all about in this PDF, goes far beyond the cruise lines and ports. The cruise industry’s contribution to the airline industry was estimated to be at $2 billion in 2019.
CDC Needs to Work With Ports and Cruise Lines
With the current situation as it is right now, Rubin thinks that the CDC is too hung up on the incidents which happened at the beginning of the pandemic:
“As you know, there were some high-profile incidents of passengers trying to get off and a few deaths out there. So, we’re living with those high-profile incidents, and it can’t seem to get past it. … I think all of our ports and the cruise lines are trying to work with the CDC to say, ‘Look, we’re gonna have protocols, we’ll have masks, we’ll sail at half capacity so we can quarantine people if they need to be quarantined.”
There is certainly no denying that the cruise lines have done an extreme amount of work to be able to sail again.
Worth Reading: Is July 2021 Now the Best Case for Restarting Cruises?
However, the way it looks with growing numbers of cases worldwide, delays in the distribution of vaccines, and a political climate that does not favor cruises right now, it is not hard to see that Michael Rubin could well be right. Cruising on any significant level could be a long time in the future.
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