BAR HARBOR — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance for cruise lines last week, but the likelihood that any large cruise ships will be pulling into town any time soon remains low.
“I really don’t think it’s going to change things right now,” said Bar Harbor Harbormaster Charlie Phippen.
On Friday, the CDC put out instructions requiring increased COVID-19 reporting, from weekly to daily. The CDC also set out guidelines for cruises to create planning materials and agreements with port authorities and local health officials to ensure cruise lines have the necessary infrastructure in place to manage an outbreak on their ships.
Another major piece of the new guidance included a call for cruise lines to establish a plan and timeline for vaccinating crew and port personnel.
“COVID-19 vaccination efforts will be critical in the safe resumption of passenger operations,” the CDC wrote in a statement. “As more people are fully vaccinated, the phased approach allows CDC to incorporate these advancements into planning for resumption of cruise ship travel when it is safe to do so.”
This second phase of the CDC’s “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order” from Friday is an update to the original order from October 2020 and came after the cruise industry called for the stringent restrictions to be loosened.
But the CDC’s plan still doesn’t allow for large cruise ships and the next phase in the four-phase approach will include trial voyages that will allow crews and port personnel to practice COVID-19 procedures with volunteers before sailing with passengers.
One of the largest cruise industry groups reiterated its call for lifting the restrictions that prevent its members from sailing and called the CDC’s new instructions “disappointing.”
“The new requirements are unduly burdensome, largely unworkable, and seem to reflect a zero-risk objective rather than the mitigation approach to COVID that is the basis for every other US sector of our society,” Cruise Lines International Association wrote in a statement on Monday. “The effect of these new mandates is that nearly half a million Americans — from longshoremen and ground transportation operators to hotel, restaurant, and retail workers, travel agents, and tens of thousands of businesses that service cruise ships, are continuing to financially suffer with no reasonable timeline provided for the safe return of cruising.”
The association argued that Americans can fly to other countries to take a cruise, but can’t board a ship in the U.S., hurting local ports and small businesses.
Phippen said it was unlikely things would be any different locally in the near term because of the ties between Maine and its neighbor to the north.
Canada is still largely shut down to cruise ships, which hurts Bar Harbor’s chances of getting on any itineraries because foreign-flag cruises that stop in the U.S. also need to stop in another country.
Those regulations largely tether Canada and Maine’s fates together, according to Phippen.
“With Canada shut down, we’re shut down,” he said.
Though the U.S.’s order remains in effect, there are still some tentative cruise trips scheduled for town, Phippen told the town Cruise Committee last week. As of the beginning of the month, there are 85 trips on the schedule for 2021, though those are largely placeholders and none are set in stone.
Bar Harbor could end up seeing some smaller cruise ships, which have resumed sailing in other parts of the U.S.
The Maine CDC and CruiseMaine, a part of the Maine Office of Tourism, are working on creating COVID-19 port readiness plans for ports across the state, with a focus on preparing for small domestic ships, said Sarah Flink, the executive director of CruiseMaine and a member of the Bar Harbor Cruise Committee.
“Once Maine CDC has reviewed our port readiness plan as well as American Cruise Lines’ plan, we will be able to share more about the prospects of a small ship season for Bar Harbor and other Maine cruise communities,” Flink said. “As for the large ships, we are all keeping a close eye on the national discussions, but it’s too early to know how they will turn out.”