June 23 ------ After weeks of planning and just days before American Cruise Line was due to launch the first cruise in North America after the coronavirus pause, the company was forced to postpone its return to service. Changes this week in Oregon’s restrictions related to COVID-19 now exclude all overnight cruises regardless of the size of the ship. “We were surprised and disappointed by the last minute changes, but understand the difficulty leaders face in that state,” the company said in its statement responding to the surprise alterations in Oregon’s Phased Reopening Plan. “We hope to participate in reviving the state’s economy, and still believe we are uniquely positioned to do so. We will continue to do our best to support all our local partners throughout the region, and look forward to resuming small ship cruising in the Pacific Northwest in the very near future.”
American Cruise Line had announced in May plans to resume operations with its first cruise departing on June 20 sailing on the Oregon and Snake rivers aboard the 184-passenger American Song. The company said it had worked closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, the FDA, Oregon Public Health, the Emergency Operation Centers (EOCs), local hospitals, and local community leadership in each of the ports they planned to visit and had developed a comprehensive COVID-19 operating protocol. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no sail order remains in place it does not cover small ships such as those operated by American Cruise Line. However, as an added precaution, American Cruise Line had said it would limit its ship to 75 percent of capacity. They also noted that the ship has one of the highest space ratios per passenger among the small cruise ships, including many open-air spaces and individual HVAC systems.
Oregon officials however said that they had chosen to follow the CDC guidelines. “As is the case in other close-contact environments, cruise ships facilitate the transmission of COVID-19,” a release from the Oregon Health Authority said. “The dynamics of passengers and crew intermingling in a semiclose setting are particularly conducive to high coronavirus transmission rates often witnessed on cruise ships.” American Cruise Line noted that it continues to be in close contact with all of the officials and the company is proceeding with its plans to resume cruising in other parts of the United States including on the Mississippi River, and in Alaska and New England. They are also continuing to discuss the situation with the officials in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
Local jurisdictions, however, remain split on when they will begin to permit cruising. In Alaska, American Cruise Lines plans to resume sailing in late July or August. Haines, Alaska, one of the ports that they hoped to include on their cruises, recently voted to continue to ban cruise ships while Ketchikan, Alaska is working with the cruise line and hopes to have protocols in place to permits American Cruise Line to bring badly needed tourists to town before the end of Alaska’s cruise season. Similarly, small businesses and restaurants along many of the routes the cruises sail are anxious for the return of tourists. American Cruise Line noted that it understands the challenges and concerns, saying in its statement about today’s cancelation of the Pacific Northwest cruises, “Covid-19 presents unprecedented challenges for community and state leaders across the country and we are very empathetic to the situation in Oregon.”
In other parts of the world, cruising has already resumed. River cruising returned to Germany last month and this week coastal cruising also resumed in Norway. American Cruise Line and the other lines operating small ships in North America are hopeful that they too can resume service currently targeting just a few weeks from now in early July.