The CDC (US Centre for Disease Control) has today announced that it will drop its “No-Sail” order effective 1 November 2020. The “No-Sail” order will be replaced by a framework for a Conditional Sailing order.

In layman's terms, it means that the “No-Sail” order has been lifted and the CDC, in partnership with the cruise industry, will be working on a realistic phased approached to return to service.

The lift of the “No-Sail” order came as a surprise as Dr Redfield, the CDC director, stated in September that he would prefer the “No-Sail” order to stay in effect until end of February.

The aim of the framework is to support the cruise industry in mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19 and provide a realistic timeline that anticipates the pandemic will still be present for a while yet and affecting cruise ship travel, the CDC said.


4 Phased approach

The new framework is based on a 4 phased approached to restart of the cruise operations timelessly and gradually. We are not expecting a start anytime soon - it will be a slow process.


Step 1 – Laboratory testing all crew on board cruise ships in US waters. This will allow cruise lines to test their crew aboard their ship and supposedly end the current applicable quarantine periods.

Step 2 – Run trial voyages to test the protocols and safety onboard conducted with only “volunteers”. This would probably happen either in port or very close to port on a short itinerary.

Step 3 – Certification process. There is more information to follow, but it can be assumed that the CDC will develop something similar to what it has established in the summer to allow crew changes.

Step 4 – Return to service with initial itineraries 7 days or shorter. Most of the cruise lines have stated that the first couple of itineraries will be short voyages, one or two ports, aboard a limited number of ships. We can also expect the cruise lines to use their private islands as one of the ports to diminish the interaction with non-tested “locals”.

At this stage, most cruise lines have cancelled sailing until end of December, and some through to  the end of January.

CEO & President of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Frank Del Rio, stated in October that it would take NCL at least 60 days to get a vessel to full operational mode.

So even if they get the go ahead tomorrow, no ship is sailing before mid-January.


What does “Simulated Voyages” mean?

All cruise companies will have to perform “Simulated Voyages” where the passengers on the ships will only be “volunteers”.

These voyages will be performed to test all embarkation & disembarkation procedures, onboard activities, social distancing, entertainment venues, dining procedures and excursions – if planned during itineraries.

At the moment it is unclear how many Simulated Voyages each ship or cruise line has to perform in order for the CDC to issue a “COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate”.


What will a cruise look like?

The cruise line will have to implement extremely rigid protocols and regulations and those can be expected to play a significant role in the future resumption of cruising.

MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, AIDA and Hapag Lloyd, have been sailing successfully in Europe for a couple of months now. The CDC and cruise industry will surely base their protocols on the successful ones that the Europeans have implemented for their sailing.

The CDC still need to explain and outline the exact restrictions that they are wanting to implement, in addition to what the cruise industry have / will plan for a successful return to service.


When can cruise sailing resume?

The first “No-Sail” order was issued on 14 March 2020. CLIA (Cruise Line International Association) followed the announcement with a voluntary suspension of all operations throughout the world.

On 9 April, the CDC announced that they will be extending the order. It was extended a second time on 16 July to 30 September 2020 and then a third time on 30 September to 31 October 2020.

For most cruise lines, it will take some time to get their vessels operational (minimum 60 days), get everyone tested, simulate a voyage and then receive the CDC certification.

The main question is still: how willing is the CDC to actually work with the cruise industry to re-open US itineraries?

Basically, we don't expect cruise lines to start operating from the US anytime soon, but lets still take this announcement as a positive one.