(sun-sentinel.com) – Norwegian and Royal Caribbean cruise lines announced temporary suspensions of their operations in an effort to help quell global spread of the novel coronavirus.
The announcements by the two companies follow similar moves on Thursday by competitors Princess, Disney, and Viking cruise lines, and suspensions earlier Friday by Carnival Corp.-owned Costa Cruises and AIDA Cruises.
Norwegian said it suspended all voyages of its Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands embarking between March 13 and April 11.
Royal Caribbean said it will pause its fleet’s sailings from United States ports for 30 days as of midnight. Cruises departing before midnight will operate their scheduled itineraries. U.S.-based ships at sea will finish their itineraries as planned.
“We are reaching out to our guests to help them work through this disruption to their vacations, and we are truly sorry for their inconvenience,” the company said in a news release. “We are also communicating with our crew to work out the issues this decision presents for them. We know this adds great stress to our guests, employees and crew, and we are working to minimize the disruption.”
A statement by Norwegian said, “the measure is taken in an abundance of caution and the Company has not experienced any confirmed cases of COVID-19 across its 28-ship fleet.”
Impacted guests will receive cruise credits worth 125 percent of their fares or a full cash refund that will be reimbursed within 90 days of their request, the statement said. Royal Caribbean’s statement did not outline how customers would be refunded or credited.
Meanwhile, Carnival Cruise Line, the world’s largest cruise line, has not yet announced an intention to follow the others’ lead and shut down its own operations.
On Thursday, Carnival Cruise Line indicated that it planned to continue sailing by updating its embarkation policies to bar travel by anyone 70 or over who cannot present a doctor’s letter confirming they don’t meet have outstanding health issues.
Travelers will be given new questions to answer on a health screening form that Carnival requires all guests to complete before they can board.
“Chronic” or “severe” conditions that will disqualify travel include persistent or recurring diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or lung disease, as well as any condition that suppresses immune systems, such as active cancer or taking steroids.
The cruise line will also bar anyone requiring oxygen for any reason.
“We apologize for the disappointment of our guests,” the company said in a statement. “These are extraordinary times and the requirements placed on us are changing by the hour and advance notice isn’t always possible.”
Continuing to market its voyages during the crisis flies in the face of recent advisories by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that travelers should avoid cruise ships completely.
The cruise lines stand to lose billions of dollars during the shutdown. On Saturday, cruise industry executives met with Vice President Mike Pence in a quickly arranged meeting at Port Everglades seen as an effort to prevent the government from ordering a shutdown.
On Sunday, Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group that represents nearly all major companies, announced a series of “additional enhanced screening measures” it said would be immediately put into effect by member cruise lines.
- Enhanced health screenings prior to boarding, including temperature screenings of all passengers. Anyone with a temperature at or above 100.4 degrees must undergo a medical assessment.
- Denying boarding to anyone who traveled from, visited or transited via airports in South Korea, Iran, China, including Hong Kong and Macau, and any city in Italy under quarantine within 14 days of embarkation.
- Denying boarding to anyone who over the past 14 days had contact with someone suspected or diagnosed with COVID-19 or is currently being monitored for possible exposure.
Whether Carnival Cruise Line will follow the others’ lead remains to be seen.
Quoted on the financial website Barrons, UBS analyst Robin Farley said “We wouldn’t be surprised to see other cruise lines follow the [Princess] decision to suspend operations for 60 days.”
Jim Walker, a South Florida-based attorney who specializes in maritime law, said he expects more companies to suspend operations. “I think all lines need to suspend cruising, or they risk becoming the next cruise coronavirus poster child, like Princess.”
Asked whether all cruise lines should also shut down, Consumer Reports spokesman James McQueen said in an email that the nonprofit watchdog and testing organization takes no position on the question at this time.
However, he said, “The CDC warns against any travel on a cruise ship, particularly for those at higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19. Consumer Reports advises everyone to heed that warning.”