Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line yesterday said US health authorities had left it with “no choice” but to delay its operational restart until October 1.
The operator of the Grand Celebration and Grand Classica, which sail to Freeport and Nassau respectively, also acknowledged that The Bahamas’ ban on commercial passenger vessels also threatened its previous plan to resume voyages on August 28.
However, the more immediate impact has come from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extending its ‘no sail’ order on the cruise line industry until September 30, 2020. Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, along with the likes of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Princess Cruise Lines.
Oneil Khosa, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s chef executive, said in a statement: “As you know, we recently announced that we would finally return to sea this August – offering travellers the chance to enjoy a much-needed, two-night getaway to paradise.
“However, given the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) extension of its ‘no sail’ order, we have no choice but to delay our resumption of cruise operations to October 1, 2020.
“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have remained one of the few cruise lines that reported no cases of the virus onboard our ships. We have also followed all required guidelines, including adhering to strict requirements for our onboard crew members, and installed the best safety protocols in the industry across our fleet to protect our guests and crew, who are always our top priority,” Mr Khosa added.
“In addition, we remain the only cruise line in the country to receive ‘green status’ from the CDC on our ‘no sail response’ plan, meaning we have met their requirements in providing a safe environment for our crew members to work and disembark via commercial travel. This was also recognised in the CDC’s own statement.
“While we are disappointed that we are not able to sail as planned, we will of course continue to work side by side with the CDC and have therefore suspended all future sailings until October 1. We are also aware of the recent announcement from Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis regarding the travel ban on travellers from the US, and we are prepared to make necessary changes to our sailing schedule as needed.
“Until then, we will continue our preparations to return to Grand Bahama while keeping a close eye on the overall landscape. We look forward to welcoming guests back onboard and appreciate everyone’s patience throughout this process.”
Given the surge in Grand Bahama COVID-19 cases in particular, thought to be linked to Bahamians travelling to Florida via the Balearia ferry service, the delay in Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s resumption - enforced as it is by the CDC - is likely to be welcomed by the Government and local health authorities, if not cruise-dependent businesses.
The CDC’s action, in extending a ‘no sail’ order that was due to expire on July 24, pushes the cruise industry’s sailing resumption back at least two weeks beyond the September 15 suspension it previously announced voluntarily through the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
“In line with CLIA’s announcement of voluntary suspension of operation by its member companies, CDC has extended its ‘no sail’ order to ensure that passenger operations on cruise ships do not resume prematurely,” the US regulator said.
“Cumulative CDC data from March 1 through July 10, 2020, shows 2,973 COVID-19 or COVID-like illness cases on cruise ships, in addition to 34 deaths. These cases were part of 99 outbreaks on 123 different cruise ships.
“During this timeframe, 80 percent of ships were affected by COVID-19. As of July 3, nine of the 49 ships under the ‘no sail’ order have ongoing or resolving outbreaks. According to US Coast Guard data, as of July 10, 2020, there are 67 ships with 14,702 crew onboard.”
The CDC then made clear its concern that cruise ships are a floating breeding ground for COVID-19 to spread rapidly, especially given how congested they are at full occupancy and how frequently crew members and passengers interact among themselves and with each other.
“On cruise ships, passengers and crew share spaces that are more crowded than most urban settings,” the CDC added. “Even when only essential crew are on board, ongoing spread of COVID-19 still occurs.
“If unrestricted cruise ship passenger operations were permitted to resume, passengers and crew on board would be at increased risk of COVID-19 infection and those that work or travel on cruise ships would place substantial unnecessary risk on healthcare workers, port personnel and federal partners (Customs and Border Protection and the US Coast Guard), and the communities they return to.”