Cruise lines, early source of coronavirus infections, out of bailout package

Language in the 883-page bill passed by the Senate says that to be eligible for aid from the $500 billion fund companies must be certified as “created or organized in the United States or under the laws of the United States” as well as having “significant operations in” and a majority of employees based in the United States.

Major cruise companies have located their primary headquarters overseas, which for years has allowed them to pay almost no federal taxes and avoid some U.S. regulations. To staff their ships, the companies rely heavily on foreign workers from the Philippines, Indonesia and India.

The industry’s trade group, the Cruise Lines International Association, acknowledged Thursday that the major cruise lines weren’t included in the package, despite providing a plan to policymakers, meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and a phone call from Micky Arison, chairman of the Carnival Corp., to President Trump.

“For the more than 421,000 people in the United States whose jobs are supported by the cruise industry, we will continue to work with policymakers to help our community recover from the impact of this pandemic,” said CLIA spokeswoman Bari Golin-Blaugrund.

Some of the travel agencies, small businesses and independent operators supported by the cruise industry may be eligible for relief from other parts of the legislation, which the House is expected to approve this week before being signed by Trump, including $377 billion that was designated to aid small businesses.

Not locating in America may have sunk the industry’s chances, despite its close ties to Trump, who has known Arison for years and who pledged earlier to help the industry with the stimulus package. “We can’t let the cruise lines go out of business,” Trump said Sunday.

While many top cruise companies have headquarters offices in Florida, they domicile in other countries. Carnival Corp., owner of the Princess cruise lines, is incorporated in Panama. Royal Caribbean is incorporated in Liberia, and Norwegian Cruise Lines in Bermuda.

Some cruise companies have said they weren’t seeking direct financial support. “We don’t need a bailout in terms of giving us money. Getting a loan guarantee would be helpful,” Carnival chief executive Arnold Donald said recently on HBO.

Spokesmen for Carnival and Royal Caribbean declined to comment. Norwegian did not immediately return a request for comment.

The cruise industry, particularly Carnival-owned Princess ships, was at the center of the early spread of the virus into the United States. Behind the scenes, cruise industry executives lobbied Trump and other officials to allow ships to continue traveling to and from the country, leading to mounting frustration with the industry’s handling of the crisis among top administration officials.

The lack of a clear plan for ships with outbreaks forced the government to handle the expensive and complicated logistics of evacuating and quarantining thousands of potentially infected passengers aboard the Grand Princess in Oakland, an operation that has drew in the National Guard and the Defense Department, among other agencies.

Peter Whoriskey and Beth Reinhard contributed

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