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An agitated Carnival again cancels cruises from Charleston, other ports

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The home port for the Carnival Sunshine (above) is Union Pier Terminal in downtown Charleston. The ship has been moved to the Bahamas during the cruise industry's COVID-19 shutdown. File/Staff

Carnival Cruise Line is delaying by another month its return to Charleston and other U.S. ports where its ships are based.

The company said it's notifying customers of its decision to extend its domestic hiatus through June 30.

It also signaled a growing impatience with the Biden administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control over how and when to safely resume sailings more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the cruise industry. 

“We know that this is very disappointing to our guests who continue to be eager to sail, and we remain committed to working with the administration and the CDC to find a workable solution that best serves the interest of public health," Christine Duffy, president of Carnival, said in a written statement. "We are asking that the cruise industry be treated on par with the approach being taken with other travel and tourism sectors, as well as U.S. society at large.”

In its latest update April 2, the CDC offered no specific timeline about when cruises from domestic ports can start up again. Instead, it said the next step will involve trial sailings with volunteers, not paying passengers.

Three days later, Carnival suggested it could redeploy its U.S.-based ships to other locations that allow revenue-generating cruises. The company's locally based Sunshine has been anchored in the Bahamas for months.

“While we have not made plans to move Carnival Cruise Line ships outside of our U.S. homeports, we may have no choice but to do so in order to resume our operations which have been on ‘pause’ for over a year," Duffy said.

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Arnold Donald, CEO of the cruise operator's Miami-based parent, said during an April 7 earnings call that the company would prefer not to do that.

"But if we're unable to sail, obviously, we will consider home porting elsewhere," Donald told investors and analysts. 

He also said he was "very disappointed" in the CDC's latest guidance.

"We'd like to be able to have the fleet fully going by the end of this year, early next year, and that's our aspiration," he said. 

The company has pushed back its return to U.S. ports at least 11 times over the course of the pandemic. Most recently, it had hoped to start sailings again from the Port of Charleston's Union Pier Terminal on June 4 with a four-day trip to and from Half-Moon Cay in the Bahamas.

As it has previously, Carnival is offering customers whose cruises have been canceled the choice of credit that can be redeemed on a later voyage or full refunds.

Six of the parent company's nine lines are already planning to launch sailings in the Canary Islands, Italy, the U.K. and Greece, according to a new financial update Wednesday that showed a nearly $2 billion loss for the first quarter. Carnival added that advanced bookings for 2022 are running ahead compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019 "with minimal advertising and marketing," Donald said

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572 or follow him on Twitter at @byjohnmcdermott

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