The two lightly-manned cruise ships off the coast, Celebrity cruise line’s Millennium and Eclipse vessels, are around to view from Coronado’s beaches for the foreseeable future.
The Centers for Disease Control extended its no sail order through Sept. 30, though cruise companies may opt for longer when planning ahead. Celebrity’s two ships nearby have been in the outer anchorage area off the Coronado coast — managed by the US Coast Guard — since the mid-March pandemic shutdown.
Authorities and the cruise liners lightened crew safely by early June to about 100 crew members each, said the Port of San Diego’s cruise business manager, Adam Deaton.
Deaton explained how the ships come into port every 15-20 days for supplies, although that cycle might become less frequent since they’ll be going up to Long Beach for fuel while the companies try to wait out the pandemic.
The present crew isn’t allowed to get off the ships for their protection, Deaton said, and there are no infections on board either vessel. He reviewed how there were some COVID-19 cases early on aboard the Eclipse but they have since recovered, and the ships remain safely quarantined.
Early on in the pandemic, Deaton said, there was a lot of communication with the ships and coordinating with the Coast Guard for health and safety as well as to get the crew down to minimal manning. Now the Port will communicate about the day the ships want to come in and about how many pallets of what they will need; it also brings in a little funding.
“We estimate a loss of $75 million in economic impact from just this cruise season,” Deaton highlighted, discussing 49 cruise calls lost including $2 million in home ports (when a cruise begins and ends in San Diego). “It is real impact that we’re going to experience because of this.”
Deaton added how the loss affects numerous businesses, from hotels and restaurants to shops.
When the CDC issued its recent no sail order update, Deaton said he learned promptly; the organizations try to provide a lot of heads up, he said, often a couple months in advance. He also explained how he usually receives notices from the American Association of Port Authorities or the Cruise Lines International Association, a lot of organizations related to cruises and ports emailing when anything big happens.
The Cruise Lines International Association recently notified him they would be ceasing cruises until Nov. 1 so far.
“I think it’s a combination of 1) trying to guess where this COVID thing is going with testing, vaccines and treatments,” he said. “But at the same time it’s also going to be a factor of working with the industry ports as well as cruise lines and local stakeholders such as the county, health and human services, the Coast Guard, CDC.”
Deaton said the precautions are key for terminals and vessels, and those can be worked on prior to the CDC lifting the no sail order. The Port has started putting together preliminary protocols, drafting and learning more every day and every week, he said, as well as seeing examples in other parts of the world to learn from.
“It kind of harkens back to the 1800s,” he said, “when ports used to provide a secondary function protecting communities and protecting infections from other locales.”
It’s going to be a multi-layered approach, Deaton said, and not one solution to reopening and protecting those on the ships and in the communities. He noted how it will require stakeholder alignment, input and doing the physical requirements necessary such as social distancing, masks, sanitization and Plexiglass; the desire is to be ready when it’s OK to cruise again.
“I think money is always a concern when you’re in a situation like this,” he said. “The Port has experienced a substantial reduction in revenue due to COVID.”
Deaton elaborated that the cargo side has “actually been doing really well,” with that business holding strong and with a little bit of growth from his understanding.
“We think that cruising can have a more V-shaped recovery from what I see out in the market,” he said. “There’s still a demand to go cruising. From what I see, bookings are very strong. I don’t think it’s going to be a long road to a recovery … I think there’s a worry in the short-term but in the long-term, I don’t think so.”
Though he said with a light laugh he doesn’t have a crystal ball.