Gov. Ron DeSantis’ heated battle over cruise line industry: Lawyers working to settle

A Carnival cruise ship is docked at PortMiami, one of five Florida seaports where cruiselines operate. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Lawyers have been working to settle a court case over resuming the crucial cruise industry that can bring in billions of dollars, with Gov. Ron DeSantis at odds with federal health officials over COVID-19 vaccinations.

Settlement discussions went for at least 11 hours on Thursday, before the Memorial Day weekend. And the discussions were scheduled to continue Tuesday, according to court documents.

The discussions have been ongoing at the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, in the Tampa division.

DeSantis, a Republican, has declared his support to reopen the shuttered cruise industry, which was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, DeSantis has created an uproar over banning businesses from requiring patrons to prove their vaccination status.

That makes no sense because the cruise ships are asking guests to get the vaccines to be able to travel.

Overall, all sides are trying to come to an agreement on various issues involving the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and states with major ports, including Florida, Texas and Alaska. The CDC is a defendant as well as the U.S. Health and Human Services agency.

“I am confident we will win the case, we were right on the law,” DeSantis said Friday in a news conference in Lakeland. “We are going to enforce Florida law…In fact, I have no choice but to enforce it.”

The CDC had issued a “conditional sailing order” to establish a phased approach to safely resume cruises earlier during the pandemic, while some cruise lines had already permitted booking departures from U.S. ports.

DeSantis signed into law in early May a bill that prohibits businesses, local and state governments from requiring people to show proof of COVID vaccination status, creating a conundrum over the issue.

In an announcement during the same time in early May, the CDC recommended “that all port personnel and travelers (passengers and crew) get a COVID-19 vaccine.”

And now the CDC is permitting “cruise ships that prove at least 98 percent of its crew and 95 percent of its passengers are vaccinated to skip test cruises and proceed directly to revenue cruises,” the Miami Herald reported.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers in Florida are pointing to political motives by DeSantis as the main reason for the state’s lawsuit.

State Rep. Omari Hardy said in a phone conversation with the Florida Phoenix that “this is another example of Gov. DeSantis playing politics.”

“He knows better than this. Gov. DeSantis knows he is not in the right legally. He just wants to pick a fight with the Biden administration,” said Hardy, a Democrat representing part of Palm Beach County.

The Port of Palm Beach is in Hardy’s district, which is home to the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line.

Another popular cruise line is the Carnival Cruise Line, which has departure ports throughout the state such as Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami. The company is preparing for guest operations in July after gaining approval from the CDC, said Vance Gulliksen, a spokesman for the company.

State Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat representing part of Broward County, said in an email to the Phoenix:

“The governor’s position on COVID safety measures has been clear since the onset of this pandemic, and that is a consistent policy of politics first. Throughout this crisis DeSantis has made it clear that his actions are based on a compulsion to pander to his master (Donald Trump) in Mar-a-Lago, not to follow the guidance of our top scientists and medical professionals. The situation with the cruise lines is no different, and once again this flawed decision-making process will be to the detriment of the people of Florida.”