The passenger cruise sector has implemented standards and safeguards that allow a vital part of the travel and hospitality industries to operate while managing health risks to vessel crew and passengers. Federal Maritime Commission Commissioner Louis E. Sola summarized this nearly two-year effort in the final report issued today on Fact Finding 30.
A Commission Order issued in April 2020 authorized Commissioner Sola to serve as the Fact Finding Officer for Fact Finding 30 and directed him to examine COVID-19 related impacts to the passenger cruise vessel industry. Commissioner Sola was also directed to identify private sector initiatives that could mitigate operational and economic effects on the cruise industry.
“The passenger cruise industry is a vital economic engine for ports and cities across the United States and is an important source of jobs for Americans from all walks of life. Shutting down ships for an indeterminate amount of time had a negative economic impact on the people who rely on cruise ships for income, or the ports and communities that benefit from vessel calls. Determining what needed to be accomplished to allow ships to sail and minimize risks to passengers and crews was a priority for the Fact Finding from its first day,” said Commissioner Sola.
The Final Report highlights the work Commissioner Sola carried out over the course of the Fact Finding, the importance of the cruise and related sectors to cities around the United States, and regulatory relief provided to smaller cruise lines, and all lines that serve the Alaska market. The report also provides an update on the status of a proposed rule amending the Commission’s regulations to clarify under what circumstances and how quickly a passenger can receive a refund for a voyage cancelled or delayed by a cruise line.
“I am pleased the Commission acted on the two regulatory reform proposals I put forward resulting from my work on Fact Finding 30. The responsiveness and support of my fellow Commissioners allowed us to provide needed relief and flexibility to small, U.S. flag cruise operators serving the Pacific Northwest. Furthermore, once implemented, our changes to the Commission’s regulations on financial responsibility will benefit cruise passengers due refunds when a cruise line cancels a voyage,” said Commissioner Sola. “I am also pleased to note that our efforts identifying the significant economic influence of the cruise industry on the Alaskan economy was useful to the Alaskan Congressional Delegation in their work crafting and quickly passing the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act in response to the Canadian government suspending all cruise vessel calls to Canadian ports.”
Over the course of the almost two-years he led Fact Finding 30, Commissioner Sola pursued an ambitious, multifaceted agenda. He engaged in extensive outreach to many different communities, including elected officials at all levels of government, senior cruise line executives, port officials, small business organizations, trade associations representing industries impacted by disruption to the cruise industry, and organized labor. Site visits and meetings with industry and government officials were carried out at ports in Alaska, California, Florida, Texas, and Washington. The Commissioner provided briefings to Members of Congress and senior Executive Branch officials. He repeatedly highlighted the need to vaccinate all mariners arriving in the United States who wished to be vaccinated and stressed the need to vaccinate crews of passenger vessels. Additionally, he issued six separate reports examining economic impacts to specific states and regions.
“Sensible and effective safety and health protocols can successfully minimize potential exposure to communicable diseases aboard a vessel, whether COVID-19 or some other pathogen. Ports and cruise lines have aggressively pursued creating the standards and infrastructure that allows ships to sail and be prepared to manage any health contingency that manifests itself. I hope to never see another no sail or conditional sail order issued,” said Commissioner Sola.
Commissioner Sola noted that the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently affirmed that cruise ships and companies are generally subscribing to the conditional sail order that will soon expire. Once expired, the cruise industry intends to continue its voluntary compliance with the CDC framework, and the CDC will continue to provide oversight.
“We cannot live in a world where our only choices are to either move freely without risk or lock down ourselves and the economy. COVID is here to stay, and we must learn to live with it. The system in place that allows cruise ships to operate is working to mitigate shipboard spread of COVID-19,” said Commissioner Sola.