(Updated 10:35 a.m. EST) -- Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has fired off a proposal to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking for a July 4 restart under strict health and safety protocols that include mandatory vaccinations against COVID-19 for all crew and passengers.
It is the latest tactic in the cruise industry's lengthy effort to be allowed to restart cruise operations within the United States, and it comes just days after the CDC declared travel for vaccinated Americans a low-risk activity while at the same time issuing additional guidance for the cruise industry that could further delay any restart plans from the United States.
The CDC has prohibited nearly all cruise operations within the United States since March 2020.
Now Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which includes the Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas brands, is taking action, petitioning the CDC to allow for a July 4, 2021 restart of limited operations from the U.S.
Today, the company submitted a letter to the CDC outlining its plan to resume cruises from U.S. ports of call using its SailSAFE Health and Safety protocols developed in conjunction with globally recognized experts including those from the Healthy Sail Panel developed jointly between NCLH and Royal Caribbean Group.
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The Healthy Sail Panel's medical experts members concluded in September that a safe return to cruise was possible. Since then, cruises have restarted safely in Singapore and in Europe.
NCLH states its plan is consistent with guidance for international travel being classified as safe by the CDC for fully vaccinated individuals. It further says the company will require full vaccination for all passengers and crew as a condition of being allowed to restart operations July 4.
"We congratulate the CDC on the steps it has taken to further open travel for vaccinated Americans," NCLH President and CEO Frank Del Rio said in a statement. "Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings shares the CDC's view that vaccinations are the primary vehicle for Americans to get back to their everyday lives.
"We believe that through a combination of 100 percent mandatory vaccinations for guests and crew and science-backed public health measures as developed by the Healthy Sail Panel, led by former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Scott Gottlieb, we can create a safe, 'bubble-like' environment for guests and crew.
Del Rio also noted in his statement that cruise is the only form of travel being prohibited from operating within the United States.
"We look forward to joining the rest of the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors in participating in this next phase of our recovery," he said.
What Happens Next?
Effectively, NCLH isn't asking for permission to operate. It is telling the CDC it fully intends to operate sailings as of July 4 within the United States, though NCLH will ultimately still need the CDC's OK to do so.
In its letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, NCLH outlines five key steps NCLH will take to resume operations within the United States.
This includes the requirement that all passengers and crew are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with an FDA, EMA, or WHO-approved vaccine.
It stipulates that appropriate health and safety measures developed by the Healthy Sail Panel will be followed.
NCLH further stipulates that sailings will resume "on or about July 4, 2021" from the United States, with an initial reduced capacity of 60 percent, increasing by 20 percent every 30 days.
The group has also committed to keeping these health and safety protocols in place until advised otherwise by the CDC.
NCLH notes it will not be reliant on shoreside facilities to handle or mitigate any potential COVID-19 outbreaks onboard.
"We will not require federal, state or local governments to incur time and/or resources in providing medical assistance to our brands' guests as we have invested tens of millions of dollars in enhanced onboard health and safety protocols, including, but not limited to, enhanced hospital grade air filtration systems, cutting-edge contact tracing technology and significantly upgraded ICU and quarantine medical facilities," notes the letter. "Our vessels are well equipped to handle the one-off case of infection that could occur, and our procedures are well detailed and resourced to treat, address and otherwise handle any isolated case onboard."
When asked about the proposal, a CDC spokesperson told Cruise Critic in a statement that, "Cruising safely and responsibly during a global pandemic is difficult. While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the phases of the conditional sailing order will ensure cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel; particularly, with emerging COVID-19 variants of concern."
In the meantime, Norwegian Cruise Line announced on April 6 that it intends to restart limited summer sailings outside the United States, homeporting vessels in Greece, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic with the full blessing of local authorities.
Cruise Critic has reached out to NCLH and other major cruise brands for comment and will update this article as needed.