50,000+ people tell CDC to extend no-sail order for cruise ships

50,000+ people tell CDC to extend no-sail order for cruise ships

Monday September 21, 2020

Cruise industry catches wind of organizing efforts by advocacy organizations and community groups as Stand.earth, Friends of the Earth US submit petition during U.S. federal agency’s comment period

SAN FRANCISCO — More than 50,000 people have signed a petition led by environmental advocacy organizations Stand.earth and Friends of the Earth US calling for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to extend its no-sail order for cruise ships, due to the risk that resumed operations would pose to public health and the environment. The organizations submitted the petition signed by just over 28,400 supporters from Stand.earth and 23,400 from Friends of the Earth US to the CDC on Monday, September 21, 2020, which is the closing date for the federal agency’s comment period on whether cruise lines can safely operate in the COVID-19 era.

Over the weekend, the cruise industry caught wind of the organizing efforts by advocacy organizations and community groups, with Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley posting on his Facebook page urging cruise fans to submit comments after an “anti-cruise group has lobbied their supporters to comment.”

“For decades, the foreign-owned cruise industry has put its bottom line before the health of people and the planet. Its recent failure to cease operations when it was clear that its vessels posed a serious risk to public health contributed to the spread of the COVID-19 virus around the world, and placed an enormous burden on the CDC and the Coast Guard to respond to onboard outbreaks. As recent outbreaks on board Norwegian cruise vessels demonstrate, there is no such thing as safe cruising during a pandemic," said Kendra Ulrich, Shipping Campaigns Director at Stand.earth.

“The cruise industry has known for years that viruses spread easily on board their ships, just as they know how much pollution they generate. As long as the cruise industry refuses to implement changes needed to protect its passengers, our environment, and local communities, the industry should not restart cruising,” said Marcie Keever, Oceans & Vessels Program Director at Friends of the Earth US.

A cohort of environmental nonprofits and community organizations also submitted a 12-page technical letter to the CDC outlining multiple concerns regarding cruise ships and COVID-19. Read the letter here. 

The letter is signed by advocacy organizations and community groups Stand.earthFriends of the Earth USPacific EnvironmentInternational Cruise VictimsGlobal Cruise Activist NetworkreEarth (Bahamas), Seattle Cruise Control (Washington), Alliance for Responsible Tourism(Maine), Charleston Communities for Cruise Control (South Carolina), and Protect our Future(Cayman Islands). Their concerns include:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first event in which cruise ships have been a vector of disease, with dozens of norovirus and other outbreaks documented over the past two decades.
  • Cruise ships are conduits for pandemic due to the confined spaces on board, high population densities, and unsanitary environments. Multiple studies have also shown that on-board air conditioning systems played a role in the spread of COVID-19.
  • Cruise ships burn dirty fuel that contributes to air pollution, which in addition to the climate implications, is now even more salient given that studies have shown that exposure to air pollution increases the risk of severe respiratory illness.
  • Cruise companies’ irresponsible choice to continue to sail during the pandemic, which played an active role in the global spread COVID-19, is just the latest example in a long history of refusing to take the actions necessary to protect public health.
  • Cruise companies have shown they do not have effective protocols in place to repatriate crew members, which would subject cruise staff to further risks if another COVID-19 outbreak occurs.
  • On-board infections can spread COVID-19 to port communities and overwhelm local health infrastructure in port cities.
  • Cruise companies flag vessels in foreign countries in order to take advantage of weak public health, environment, and labor laws. The sector’s global lobbying efforts to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic is just another example of their goal to continue operating in a regulatory environment with minimal oversight.
  • Cruise companies have a track record of breaking environmental laws even when held to higher standards, as demonstrated by Carnival Corporation’s multiple felony convictions.
  • Cruise companies have historically been highly profitable worldwide, and the industry’s business model demonstrates that irresponsible corporate actors maximize profit over public health.

In addition to submitting the technical letter and petition, Stand.earth also organized 2,039 of its supporters to submit comments to the CDC encouraging an extension of the no-sail order. 

“Our small town of Hoonah, Alaska, has no respirators, and is only a small clinic, staffed with elders, mothers with infants, and grandmothers. If an emergency arises and we are in need of a hospital or critical care, we have to take a helicopter or an emergency plane ride out of the village, IF the weather allows. ... If a cruise ship came into our town and potentially had COVID-19, our town of 800 would suffer just like our Alaska Native people did when westward expansion reached Alaska, dying of diseases and illnesses in which they had no cure, and were never exposed to because of the remoteness. I demand that the CDC extends its no sail order until after this pandemic because cruise ships are a vector for disease, not only COVID-19, but many other illnesses,” wrote Rebekah Sawers, an Alaskan Native Yupik living with her family in Hoonah, Alaska. 

Hoonah is a largely Tlingit community located near Glacier Bay National Park, where in 2018 Carnival Corporation’s Holland America Line committed a felony when it illegally dumped untreated greywater and failed to report it to the Coast Guard.

"Until the pandemic is actually under control, traveling via cruise ship will be extremely hazardous. The people on the ship — staff and customers alike — will be at severe risk. ... As a retired Public Health Nurse, I am encouraging the strictest measures to protect us all rather than encourage the spread of this virus,” wrote another commenter.

"Cruise ships are already hazardous to the environment and need tighter regulations. They pollute everywhere they sail. Sailing in the midst of a pandemic is not responsible behavior. It is the behavior of greedy people who worship money," wrote another commenter.

"Dead people make lousy customers," wrote another commenter.

As of 12:00 p.m. PT Monday, September 21, only 3,584 of the 10,539 comments submitted were approved and posted on the CDC’s comment portal. There appears to be a lag between when the CDC receives and posts comments — in some cases up to two weeks — so it is unknown how many additional comments the CDC will publish after the deadline.

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Media contacts:
Virginia Cleaveland, Stand.earth, media@stand.earth, 510-858-9902
Aisha Dukule, Friends of the Earth, adukule@foe.org