FL is suing the feds over shuttered cruise industry amid continued COVID crisis

Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Sea leaving The Port of Key West, Key West Florida. Credit: Steve Apps

The state of Florida filed a lawsuit Thursday against the federal government over the shuttered cruise industry, which has been closed for months during the COVID-19 pandemic and is on the “brink of financial ruin,” according to court records.

The lawsuit comes at a time when the pandemic is continuing, COVID variants are spreading and not everyone, even repeat cruisers, have not yet been vaccinated.

Even so, travelers are waiting for the industry to open and launch their vacation voyages. American travelers are already booking voyages, in hopes that the cruise ships will sail in the next new months. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set a phased approach for launching cruises in connection with a “conditional” sailing order.

But Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody said Thursday at a news conference in Miami that cruises have been sailing in other countries, but not in the United States.

The cruise industry Florida is huge, with ports scattered throughout Florida’s coastline, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Tampa. And cruise ships are well-known in the industry, with names such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian which pack ships with hundreds of employees ranging from cooks to dancers.

DeSantis has advocated to reopen the cruise line industry, previously calling on the CDC to do so.

At the Thursday press conference, DeSantis described the CDC’s action related to the cruise industry as “basically an anti-vaxxer.”

“I mean you’re saying the vaccines don’t work, I guess, because if the vaccines work, then everything needs to be back to normal,” DeSantis said.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, shows the defendants as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra; CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, the CDC itself and the United States of America.

“Absent this Court’s intervention, Florida will lose hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. And, more importantly, the approximately 159,000 hard-working Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry could lose everything,” according to the lawsuit.

In fact, the lawsuit states that “the cruise industry in the United States has been subject to a nationwide lockdown since March 2020. As a result, the industry is on the brink of financial ruin.”

The complaint argues that the CDC’s restrictions in its conditional sailing order are arbitrary and capricious. It says CDC has not given adequate data justifying why the cruising industry is as restrictive it is, considering that similar industries such as airlines, casinos and theme parks, have been able to reopen “successfully with reasonable COVID-19 protocols.”

In an email to the Phoenix, Jonathon Fishman, communications for Royal Caribbean, said that they “strongly believe that the cruise industry can be part of President Biden’s stated goal for society to reopen by July 4,” and that “vaccinations layered on top of the rigorous health and safety measures we are implementing enable us to create a safe environment for cruising.”

Whether cruises will require, or be able to require, verification of vaccination is not yet certain.

DeSantis recently implemented an executive order forbidding “vaccine passports,” or proof of COVID vaccination, from state agencies or private businesses. He reiterated this stance Thursday, saying that vaccine passports are “not necessary.”

But some cruise lines already plan to check for vaccination status — including Norwegian Cruise Line plans to require proof of COVID vaccines from passengers, according to the Palm Beach Post.

But not everyone has access to the vaccine yet. In Florida, COVID vaccine eligibility only expanded to the general public this past Monday.

According to the CDC, about 33.1 percent of Americans have at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and that 19.4 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated.

So it’s not yet clear how safe the cruise industry will be. Even when the vaccine becomes more available, it takes a few weeks to be fully inoculated and protected from COVID-19.

Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.