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Statement by Commissioner Louis E. Sola on the One Year Anniversary of the Cessation of Cruise Activity from U.S. Ports

The arrival of COVID-19 in the United States one-year ago and its ensuing spread has created a year of challenges for Americans, including economic impacts and hardships.  The loss of cruise operations over the course of an entire year has been felt by people and municipalities who rely on this segment of the tourism sector for jobs, salaries, and revenues.

When I began my work as the Fact Finding Officer for Fact Finding 30, an examination of the effects of COVID-19 on the cruise industry and related U.S. ports, I anticipated obtaining more information regarding lost business and revenue.  We estimate the U.S. has lost approximately $15 billion in direct cruise expenditures and the ancillary businesses that rely upon the cruise industry have lost approximately $44 billion.  I was less prepared for the extent of these losses in terms of not only overall dollars, but also in terms of how many different people working in so many different enterprises rely on a cruise vessel for income.

Cruise vessels calling ports create jobs and economic activity.  It is not just the fees paid to a port authority or the shoreside and longshore jobs created.  Cruise vessels require food, linens, and uniforms.  They require entertainers, shoreside maintenance personnel, and fuel.  This is hardly an exhaustive list of services and supplies procured by cruise lines, frequently to the benefit of local and regional businesses throughout the United States.  Cruise passengers stay in hotels before and after trips.  They buy airplane tickets, rent cars, visit museums, shop in local retail outlets, and eat in local restaurants.  The economic opportunities associated with a cruise ship call are varied and significant.

No matter where I go or who I communicate with, I have heard one message over and over again from port executives, union leaders, municipal government officials, and citizens–cruise ships provide livelihoods for many Americans and the sooner vessels sail again, the sooner people can provide for themselves and their families.  Vaccines are the game changer that will allow that to happen.

There is a path to the safe resumption of cruise vessel operations.  It is a simple three-step process, revolving around vaccines, that I call “Cruise Forward”:

  1. Vaccinations:
    1. Shore Side Measures Vaccinations — We need to prioritize providing our maritime workforce, particularly terminal workers and longshore labor.
    2. Shipboard Measures Vaccinations — Vaccinate crew and only permit vaccinated individuals travel as passengers.
    3. Destination Vaccinations — There are destinations where cruise vessels can sail and find little risk of COVID. Vaccination rates in Alaska are impressive and that state is reaching herd immunity.  Many cruise lines operate their own islands in the Bahamas and immunizing all staff working at such facilities is imminently achievable.
  2. Sanitation: Cruise lines and ports must work with health leaders to develop a uniform set of minimum best sanitation practices and implement them.
  3. Coordination: A coordinated effort that will not only minimize one’s risk of exposure to disease at the terminal prior to boarding but also on the vessel is essential.  Cooperation between the lines and every port of call must also exist to address evacuation, isolation, and the provision of medical care of infected individuals.  As daunting as it may sound, such agreements and plans already exist at some ports and trial runs have already been conducted.

It is apparent that there is a significant amount of consumer demand waiting to be unleashed.  Americans are eager to travel again and cruising is a popular way to vacation.  People who want to get on a ship should be able to take a cruise with confidence about their health.  Focusing on the above protocols will provide comforting levels of certainty about the safety of sailing.  Additionally, allowing only vaccinated individuals to board or serve a cruise ship will complement the investments port authorities have made to update infrastructure to permit customers to move through their facilities in ways that minimize opportunities for the transmission of communicable diseases.

I am grateful for all the assistance and support I have received for my work on Fact Finding 30.  I am appreciative of those most affected by COVID-19’s impact on the cruise industry for their candor when speaking about the economic consequences they are trying to manage.   Their narratives have been sometimes heart wrenching to hear, but I have always been inspired by the underlying optimism of the people and their unflagging belief that, if they can only get back to work, they will manage to recover from the current adversity. Working together, we will be able to cruise forward.

Louis E. Sola is a Commissioner with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission. The thoughts and comments expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.