CDC Issues Phases 2B and 3 of the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) for cruise ships operating or seeking to operate in U.S. waters.

CDC published technical instructions for cruise ship operators preparing to conduct simulated (“trial”) voyages in advance of restricted passenger voyages under a COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate. With the issuance of these next two phases, cruise ship operators now have all the necessary requirements and recommendations they need to start simulated voyages before resuming restricted passenger voyages and apply for a COVID-19 conditional sailing certificate to begin sailing with restricted passenger voyages. CDC may adjust these requirements and recommendations based on public health considerations and other factors.

“CDC expects to quickly approve applications that are both complete and accurate,” the agency said. 

The guidelines are complex, and there is one key workaround: if 98 percent of crew are fully vaccinated and 95 percent of passengers are vaccinated, a cruise operator does not need to conduct simulated sailings. 

The CDC said a cruise line operator should notify them and request approval to conduct a simulated voyage at least 30 calendar days prior to the date on which the cruise ship operator proposes to conduct the simulation but also noted it will respond to submissions within five business days.

Cruise lines will need to submit information to the CDC such as the dates and location of the voyage, as well as documentation that the cruise line has a written agreement (or a multi-port agreement) with all U.S. port and local health authorities where the cruise ship intends to dock or make port during a simulated voyage.

For cruise lines wanting to operate from a U.S. port, they will need to adhere to a number of new regulations released on Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for ships to sail under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO).

While many cruise lines have already confirmed their buffets are on hold for the time being, the CDC has made it official by now requiring them to eliminate any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and drink stations.

The CDC will also require social distancing in all venues onboard and is recommending cruise lines provide alternative meal services options, such as prepackaged grab-and-go meals, for consumption on open decks or in individual cabins to minimize risks associated with congregate indoor dining.

Outdoor lounge seating around the pool will also have a different look, as loungers and chairs will need to be six feet apart, severely limiting outdoor seating space. These items can be grouped together for families and traveling companions, according to the CDC.

The CDC has also said cruise lines must “prohibit self-guided or independent exploration by passengers during port stops. Ensure all shore excursion tour companies facilitate social distancing to allow for at least 6 feet (2 meters) between individuals who are not traveling companions or part of the same family, mask wearing, cleaning and disinfection, and other COVID-19 public health measures throughout the tour.”

This would require passengers to buy organized tours through the cruise line ahead of time.

Of note, the CDC also said cruise lines should limit shore excursions in foreign ports of call to countries listed as Level 1: COVID-19 Low in CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination, which would take a number of Caribbean destinations out of itineraries.

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