In a sign of things slowly returning to normal, two Carnival Cruise lines ships berthed in the Port of Galveston in Texas on Sunday.
The docks have remained quiet for more than a year after the entire cruise industry ground to a halt.
The Carnival Breeze and Carnival Vista arrived around midday with officials from the port inviting the public to come and celebrate their return.
Carnival Breeze and Carnival Vista arrived in the Texas port on Sunday
Cruise ships have berthed at the Port of Galveston for the first time in a year
Both of the ships has a special message decked out in lights
Carnival hopes to spur the CDC into action and relax the restrictions to allow cruising to begin
Members of the public were invited to attend with those gathered standing behind a barrier
‘We are SO excited to finally have our ships back home. We’ve been granted approval to allow the community public access to the dock in between cruise Terminal 1 and 2 for this special event,’ a Facebook post by the Port of Galveston read.
The ships were last in port in April 2020 until the pandemic brought cruises to a halt.
‘Suspension of cruising from Galveston has resulted in huge losses for the Texas economy and families who rely on this industry. Based on historical economic impact annual statistics, losses are estimated at $1.2 billion in direct spending, 23,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in wages statewide,’ wrote Rodger Rees, Port of Galveston CEO earlier this month.
The ships are the first to stay in Texas’ only cruise terminal since late April 2020
The liners are still not allowed to pick up passengers with cruises still limited by federal health orders preventing sailing during the coronavirus pandemic
Rees detailed how the port’s cruise terminal has been upgraded in order to meet CDC guidelines investing ‘$100,000 in improvements intended to reduce the spread of the virus.’
Both the Breeze and Vista are now to undergo maintenance while they wait at the port for further guidance from the CDC.
‘Their intentions are to stay here, crew up, and do some work on the ships,’ Rees told KTRK. ‘So they’ll be here when it’s time to start cruising, and we’re hoping that it’s quick.’
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced (above) at the Port of Miami earlier this month he was suing to demand cruise ships be allowed to resume sailing immediately
In April, Rees joined with the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in an open letter for the CDC to allow cruising to begin in July.
‘This multi-billion-dollar industry is the ONLY industry prohibited by the federal government from operating, even as other sectors of travel, tourism, and hospitality have opened or continued to operate throughout the pandemic,’ the letter read.
The agency announced new requirements for getting the cruise industry back up and running by mid-July, one week after Alaska joined Florida‘s lawsuit demanding ships be allowed to resume sailing immediately.
Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Sea cruise ship docked at Port Miami. The CDC has said cruise ships can resume sailing from mid-summer if they can prove 98 percent of their crew and 95 percent of their passengers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19
Cruise lines were asked to submit their plans ‘as soon as possible to maintain the timeline of passenger voyages by mid-July.’
Testing and quarantine rules will also be updated ahead of the industry restarting.
The cruise industry is one of the Florida’s biggest tourism sectors, with 8 million passengers cruising from Florida in 2019, before the pandemic hit.
An estimated 150,000 jobs in the state are created by the industry, including dependent jobs at hotels, restaurants and airlines, generating nearly $8 billion in wages, according to estimates from the Cruise Lines International Association.
When the industry ground to a halt, the state’s economy was hard hit with the first six months of the pandemic costing an estimated $3.2 billion in economic activity, according to the Federal Maritime Commission.
The CDC shut down sailing last March when outbreaks broke out on ships. Pictured a docked Norwegian Gem cruise ship is seen at the Port of Miami in Miami Beach this month
Cruise ships fast became hotbeds for the virus when it first started ravaging the globe last spring, and several ships were turned away by ports refusing to allow sick patients to disembark.
The cruise industry and the CDC came under fire for their slow response amid the pandemic as ships continued to sail out to sea even after a series of outbreaks on board and repeated warnings that the high numbers of people in contained spaces made them breeding grounds for the virus.
Fears first mounted for cruise ship passengers and crew last February when hundreds tested positive on the Diamond Princess after Japanese authorities imposed a lockdown in Yokohama ordering the ship to stay off the coast for two weeks.
More than 700 people tested positive and 14 died after being on board the ship.
Passengers were confined to their cabins during the lockdown but several countries eventually lost patience with Japan and airlifted their citizens home.
Fears first mounted for cruise ship passengers and crew last February when hundreds tested positive on the Diamond Princess (above) after Japanese authorities imposed a lockdown in Yokohama ordering the ship to stay off the coast for two weeks
A passenger waves as she walks with others on the deck of the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February. More than 700 people tested positive and 14 died after being on board the ship
Despite the warning signs, on March 7, 2020 it was still business as usual with companies citing extra cleaning measures were being taken and then-Vice President Mike Pence told Americans it was ‘safe for healthy Americans to travel.’
The next day – around a month after the Diamond Princess outbreak – the CDC issued guidelines that Americans do not travel on cruise ships.
Several ships still set sail after this time, and four days later the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
On March 13, 2020 more than 50 cruise lines finally announced they were suspending operations to and from US ports for 30 days and the CDC issued a no-sail order in US waters the following day.
Ports then refused ships permission to dock leaving passengers and crew stranded amid outbreaks.
In August, the US Coast Guard said it was still monitoring 36 cruise ships moored in US ports with 24,300 crew members on board and 42 cruise ships underway in US waters with 36,500 crew members on board, reported ABC News.