When the coronavirus pandemic began making its way around the world in February of 2020, the cruise line industry was the first to be directly impacted as thousands of passengers, mixing in relatively small quarters, began to get sick onboard. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) soon issued a No Sail Order that’s been in effect ever since, shuttering the entire industry.
As the largest cruise port in the world and a cornerstone of the South Florida economy, PortMiami was hit hard. Port Director Juan Kuryla said that before the coronavirus, the port was on target to exceed a record 7 million cruise passengers in 2020. Instead, the count stopped at 3.5 million through March 2020. The port’s cruise sector normally generates a $7 billion annual economic impact, but because of COVID-19 “there are thousands of people who haven’t worked as a result in the past 14 months,” Kuryla said. Cruise line business supports an estimated 40,000 jobs throughout multiple sectors of South Florida’s economy and nearly 160,000 jobs across Florida.
As the pandemic began to ease over this past winter into spring, Kuryla told the Club that he and others set their sights on reopening the cruise business as soon as possible.
“We want to do this in a safe manner. Nobody is saying let’s start cruising and make it unsafe, no,” Kuryla stressed. He said that he and other Miami-Dade County officials have been in serious talks with the federal government and hospitality partners since April 1 to work out a plan for resuming cruises.
“A key requirement for the CDC is to have a memorandum of agreement between the cruise lines and the port that show, in the event of one case or one hundred cases ‘How would you handle that case? What protocols do you have in place? Who is going to pay for the transportation between the ship and the hospital and the hospital care?’ So all of these issues have either been resolved or we’ll be completing them by the end of this week,” said Kuryla. “We hope to resume cruise operations in July or August in a modest way.”
In preparation, many of PortMiami’s cruise partners have announced new policies requiring future passengers and crew to be vaccinated. Those policies would violate a new law passed by the Florida Legislature, banning such “vaccine passports.” Kuryla said he is believes that conflict will be resolved in the near future. “We’re trying to do the parts that we control here at the port and that is, having these re-start agreements fully executed with the lines so that once that issue is settled, we’ll be ready to roll.”
While cruise ships make up about 60% of PortMiami’s business, thankfully the other 40% – shipping – has remained strong and is now growing even stronger. “January 2021 was the busiest month in the history of PortMiami, as the coronavirus created greater demand for consumer goods,” Kuryla explained. He said continual investment in facilities has allowed the port to remain competitive, as the number two shipping port in Florida (behind Jacksonville).