Florida and federal government at impasse over fate of cruise industry and vaccines

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

Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged Thursday that the state of Florida is at an impasse with the federal government over the fate of the cruise ship industry and vaccines for travelers.

Florida’s lawsuit had been in mediation last month and into early June, and lawyers were engaged in settlement talks, according to court records. The discussions had been ongoing at the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, in the Tampa division.

But Thursday, DeSantis’ office sent out a press release stating that, “Despite Florida’s sincere efforts to reach a compromise, the mediator appointed by the United States District Court declared an impasse.”

The lawsuit involves 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.

A Phoenix report Wednesday found that a new court record showed 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.

According to the 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.”

However, the Thursday news release from DeSantis’ office provided a different view:

“The CDC did almost nothing to re-open sailing until Florida filed suit. As Florida’s cruise lines address the CDC’s constantly changing labyrinth of requirements for safety plans and simulations, time is of the essence. While it is a positive sign to see the CDC begin to green light ‘conditional cruises’ following Florida’s lawsuit, there is still no set date upon which cruises can resume business operations. The CDC has no excuse for ruining two summers of sailing and it is well past time to end the CDC’s desperate attempt to prolong its power trip over America. Floridians are ready for a real trip on our waters.”

The news release also stated that, “The CDC has no legal authority to mandate COVID-19 ‘vaccine passports’ from anyone. Floridians’ medical privacy is protected under Florida law. The evolving requirements on testing, masks, communications, vaccinations, and simulations only reiterate Florida’s concerns that the CDC is taking the cruise industry on a slow boat to nowhere by moving the goalposts every day.”

DeSantis, a Republican, has been in support of reopening the shuttered cruise industry, which was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But he is against businesses requiring guests to prove their vaccination status – a key element for people to travel on cruise ships.

DeSantis has created a conundrum of sorts over banning businesses from requiring patrons to prove their vaccination status. But that makes no sense because the cruise ships are requiring guests to get the vaccines to be able to travel.

The governor’s news release on Thursday also cites issues of children being prevented to go on cruises and potential discrimination, saying:

“By imposing unlawful vaccination requirements for cruise ships — something no other business can do — the CDC is discriminating against families with children, preventing them from cruising. At this time, COVID-19 vaccines are not approved for children under 12, yet the CDC rules would require 95% of all passengers to be vaccinated. Approximately 30% of cruise passengers are children. It is not possible for families to enjoy a cruise vacation under these unlawful regulations — they would either have to leave their children at home or forego the vacation altogether.”