CDC extends conditional sail order rules for 11 weeks

On October 26th, only days before the rules governing the operation of cruise ships from U.S. ports were scheduled to expire, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that, because of the continuing spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 it planned to extend the protocols for an additional two and a half months.

The CDC also said that in 2022 it planned to transition to a voluntary programme that was being developed in conjunction with the cruise lines and other authorities.

The Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) was first released in October 2020 amid mounting pressure from the cruise industry to end the blanket ban on cruise ships leaving and entering US ports. It was later modified with a framework to help the resumption of cruises, including reaching agreements with ports, vaccination, testing and monitoring requirements, test cruises, and finally the resumption of trips. The CSO was criticized for being ridiculously complex, and in places unrealistic. However, the cruise lines  met the CDC requirements and resumed sailing from US ports in the summer of 2021.

The CSO became the subject of a lawsuit by the state of Florida in a states v federal rights issue. Florida claimed that the CDC, a federal institution, was causing harm by blocking cruises. Florida was successful in getting a temporary injunction that made the CDC’s restrictions into recommendations, the cruise lines in the main continued to follow the CDC requirements. However, Florida then blocked vaccine requirements for passengers, which forced the cruise lines to be “creative” in finding a process that complied with federal and state law at the same time.

The latest iteration of the CDC’s processes went into effect on November 1st.

The CDC said that it would remain in place until the pandemic was officially declared over or until January 15, 2022, at which time the industry would be governed by a voluntary programme.

The extension of the requirements saw the addition of two new important provisions for the cruise industry. Cruise ships that have been sailing from US ports for more than 60 days requiring 95% of passengers and crew to be vaccinated would now have the option to transition to broader operations without running simulated cruises.

The other important change to the order addressed the cruise ships that had been sailing internationally and were now repositioning into US ports. Ships operating for more than 60 days will be permitted to return to the US market without conducting simulated voyages by establishing similar protocols for masking and virus mitigation and crew training.

Other changes to the CSO include removing the restriction on length of cruises and the requirements to advise passengers of the risks and CDC restriction while marketing cruises. Earlier versions of the CSO limited cruising to less than seven days.