Feds argue that FL lawsuit could threaten ‘public confidence’ in cruise industry

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

A new court record in the battle over the fate of the cruise industry reveals that the federal government has already approved some cruise ships to set sail with vaccinated guests and crew members, and Florida’s lawsuit could jeopardize public trust in the cruise industry.

On Wednesday, lawyers for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said cruising is set to resume with updated guidance on COVID-19 safety measures. The federal lawsuit also includes Texas and Alaska.

According to court documents, the “CDC has approved port agreements covering 22 vessels at 5 ports of call (and is reviewing agreements for 6 additional vessels),” as of Tuesday.

Federal health officials also have “received and provisionally approved 2 conditional sailing certificates for highly vaccinated cruises.” The CDC is a defendant as well as the U.S. Health and Human Services agency.

Defendants in the case filed what’s called a “short supplemental brief,” as the lawsuit continues. Last week and earlier this week, the lawyers were in  settlement discussions at the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, in the Tampa division.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been in support of reopening the shuttered cruise industry but against businesses requiring guests to prove their vaccination status – a key element for people to travel on cruise ships.

But the federal health authorities insist that Florida’s situation and a potential injunction would “cast considerable doubt on public confidence in the industry” and “otherwise undermine the carefully laid plans for safe resumption of passenger Operations,” court documents show.

Earlier during the pandemic, the CDC had issued a “conditional sailing order” to establish a phased approach to safely resume cruises, while some cruise lines had allowed guests to book departures from U.S. ports.

However, DeSantis has been in opposition of the CDC’s safety recommendations that require vaccines for passengers and staff to protected from COVID. At issue is whether Florida law applies to cruisers who wouldn’t be able to provide proof, such as a vaccine passport.

Meanwhile, the cruise industry in Alaska could be threatened by the state’s lawsuit, federal health officials argue.

According to court records, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act was signed into law on May 24, which “provides temporary standards for the operation of certain cruise ships in Alaska.” The act temporarily authorizes “covered cruise ships” to retain a “COVID–19 Conditional Sailing Certificate of the [CDC].”

“The speculative nature of the State’s ‘injury’ is therefore further underlined by the fact that an injunction would end cruising in Alaska for the season,” defendants wrote.