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Cruise ships may return to Santa Barbara after COVID shut down in 2020.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The last cruise ship to visit Santa Barbara was March 4, 2020. The the COVID crisis hit and the cruise ship industry faced a "no sail" order from the Centers for Disease Control.

That order was lifted last October and major cruise liners are slowly ramping up their schedules again.

Some are already on trips to Mexico and Catalina Island.

The Santa Barbara waterfront had been a popular stop prior to the COVID stop, but it is about to return to the industry schedules.

Currently the plan calls for 34 cruise ship stops in 2022 and 28 in 2023.

Cruise ship protocols are currently among the highest for health and safety in the travel industry.

The Santa Barbara Harbor Commission is supporting the return of cruise ships to the city and will be writing a letter to the Santa Barbara City Council and health officials as the protocols and approvals are worked out.

The conditions will include vaccination proof for passengers and crew members, social distancing, use of masks and enhanced disinfection. If anyone reports a COVID case while in Santa Barbara, they will not be going to a local hospital, but instead will go back to the port of origin.

The industry also agrees to other local rules including a ban on any garbage or sewage within 12 nautical miles of the city. There's also no use of the ship's incinerator within the same limits.

The cruise ship stops began 20 years ago. Most of the ships arrive between September and May.

The city does not have a deep water dock and the boats have to be offshore by a mile. Passengers are brought in by small multi-passenger boats or "tenders."

For each stop, about 80 percent of the passengers come ashore.

They are met by tourism workers, shuttle buses and trolleys for tours.

Popular spots have been State Street, the waterfront and wine country.

City leaders say the cruise ship stops have been a boost to the economy.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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