CDC extends 'no sail' order for cruise ships as industry ravaged by the coronavirus

Cruise ships won't be hitting the high seas again anytime soon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended a "no sail order" Thursday that it imposed last month to help quell the spread of the coronavirus.

While the March 14 order was intended as a voluntary measure to stay in place for 30 days, the new one could last longer. 

The CDC order states that cruise ships can't board passengers and return to their sailing schedules until one of three events takes place:

• Expiration of the Department of Health and Human Services' declaration that COVID-19 constitutes a public health emergency.

•The CDC director's own decision to modify or rescind its no-sail decision.

•Passage of 100 days from the time the new order is published in the Federal Register.

Until then, the about 100 cruise ships in the Atlantic, Pacific or Gulf of Mexico must remain idle, either in port or wallowing at anchor, the CDC said. Those ships currently have nearly 80,000 crew aboard.

A patient is taken off the the Zaandam cruise ship after it arrived at Port Everglades on April 2, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Holland America cruise ship had been at sea for the past 19 days after South American ports denied their entry due to the coronavirus outbreak. Reports indicated that two of four people that died aboard the Zaandam had  tested positive for COVID-19.

“The measures we are taking today to stop the spread of COVID-19 are necessary to protect Americans, and we will continue to provide critical public health guidance to the industry to limit the impacts of COVID-19," said CDC Director Robert Redfield in a statement. 

Cruise ship lines have already voluntarily suspended most operations, leaving a dwindling number of ships left at sea with passengers aboard. Many have struggled to find ports that will allow their passengers to disembark. One ship still in operation is Princess Cruises' Pacific Princess, en route to Hawaii and then to Los Angeles with 115 passengers aboard after cutting short a westbound around-the-world cruise in Australia. The only passengers left aboard are those who had medical issues that prevented them from flying home.

More:2021 cruise bookings are on the rise despite coronavirus chaos

Cruise ships, with their confined environments, have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC notes that in recent weeks, crew members or passengers have developed either flu-like symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 on at least 10 cruise ships.

On some of the vessels, passengers or crew members died either on the ship or after being moved ashore to hospitals.

The Cruise Lines International Association, the trade group representing more than two dozen companies, pledged to work with government agencies but took issue with parts of the order.

In a statement provided by Bari Golin-Blaugrund, the group's senior director of strategic communications, CLIA expressed concern "about the unintended consequences of the order in its singling out an industry that has been proactive in its escalation of health and sanitation protocols, including the aforementioned proposals, as well as transparent in its reporting despite numerous challenges beyond the industry’s control."

CLIA warned the U.S. economy could lose $51 billion and shed more than 300,000 jobs in the next year if the fallout is similar to what happened with the national emergency brought on by H1N1 (swine flu).

"While it’s easy to focus on cruising because of its high profile, the fact is cruising is neither the source or cause of the virus or its spread," the CLIA statement continued. "What is different about the cruise industry is our reporting requirements. It would be a false assumption to connect a higher frequency in reporting to increased risk/frequency of infection."

Contributing: Jayme Deerwester

More:If you sailed on these cruise ships, you may have been exposed to coronavirus