Florida sues CDC to get cruises started again
The state of Florida on Thursday sued the federal government to force it to let cruise lines restart sailings out of U.S. ports.
“Today, Florida’s fighting back,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press event Thursday to announce the lawsuit against the Biden Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC has been blocking most cruise vessels from sailing in U.S. waters since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic in March of 2020, citing COVID-19-related risks.
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DeSantis made the announcement at PortMiami, the world's biggest cruise hub, with the state's Attorney General Ashley Moody by his side.
The lawsuit comes as Florida politicians and Florida-based cruise lines have become increasingly frustrated with the CDC for not allowing at least limited cruising to restart out of the state.
Cruising around the world ground to a halt in March 2020 after the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic and many countries went into nationwide lockdowns. But since last summer, a number of countries including Italy, Greece, Germany, Norway, Taiwan and Singapore have allowed at least some cruise vessels to resume operations as they relaxed national lockdowns and travel restrictions.
In the U.S., by contrast, federal officials have blocked all cruising for the past 13 months, with the exception of a handful of sailings on very small river vessels on the Mississippi River and small ships that sail on intracoastal waterways.
Florida politicians have noted the financial hardship of the cruising shutdown on people who work for ports, cruise lines and related industries in the state as Florida-based ships sit idle. Cruise lines based in Florida have had to lay off thousands of people during the shutdown.
Cruise lines in recent weeks have argued that the rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. and some other countries have made it possible to safely return to operations. They have claimed the cruise industry has faced a double standard from federal regulators when it comes to approval to restart operations as compared to providers of travel experiences on land such as resorts and theme parks.
Some big land-based resorts such as Disney World in Florida have been allowed to welcome thousands of vacationers since last summer even as cruising remained halted.
“We believe, that in light of the current health trends, buttressed by the more than 650 million vaccines administered worldwide to date, it is time for [us] to join the rest of the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors in participating in this next phase of our recovery,” Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio wrote Monday in a letter to CDC director Rochelle Walensky.
The letter asked the CDC to allow the company to restart operations from U.S. ports in July.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
The lawsuit filed by the state of Florida on Thursday named the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in addition to the CDC and the Biden Administration.
The ban on cruising out of U.S. ports has prompted some major cruise lines in recent weeks to announce plans to move some ships that normally sail out of U.S. ports to other countries for the summer.
For example, the world's largest cruise line, Royal Caribbean, in recent weeks has said it plans to use the Bahamas and Bermuda as bases for new cruises starting in June. Celebrity Cruises is redeploying a vessel to the island of St. Martin for new sailings starting in June.
During Thursday's press event, DeSantis made the argument that it was better to open up cruising for Americans out of Florida than to see them go to other countries to cruise.
"People are going to cruise one way or another," he said. "The question is, are we going to do it out of Florida, which is the number one place to do it in the world, or are they going to be doing it out of the Bahamas or other locations?"
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