MIAMI — Florida's governor said the Sunshine State is "fighting back" against the "unlawful" year-long shutdown of the cruise industry.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday announced that Florida has filed a lawsuit against the President Joe Biden Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, demanding that U.S. cruise ships be "reopened immediately."
"This is not reasonable. This is not rational," DeSantis said during a news conference at PortMiami. "We don't believe the federal government has the right to mothball a major industry for over a year based on very little evidence and very little data."
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The CDC first issued its no-sail order at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020 following coronavirus outbreaks on several ships.
The order, which has been extended until Nov. 1, prevents cruise ships from allowing passengers to embark and disembark from all U.S. ports.
"Cruise ship operators shall not commence or continue operations... except as approved by USCG, in consultation with HHS/CDC personnel, until further notice," the order states.
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Despite the order, a number of cruise lines like Royal Caribbean have announced they're resuming sailings from international ports like The Bahamas and Bermuda. However, all passengers 18 and older must be vaccinated before boarding.
"People are still gonna go on cruises. You know what they're gonna do? Instead of flying to Miami, spending money to stay in our hotels, spending money to eat in our restaurants before they get on the ship, they're gonna fly to the Bahamas, and they're gonna get on the ship from the Bahamas, and they're gonna spend the money in the Bahamas," DeSantis said.
The governor added that the no-sail order is costing Florida ports millions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs, saying Miami-Dade County -- which boasts tourism as one of its top industries -- has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state because of the lockdown.
"We're not gonna sit back while an administrative agency decides to shut down an entire industry," Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said. "Sixty% of the nation's cruises come out of Florida."
With all Floridians 18 and older now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, widespread vaccine availability, and increased coronavirus testing, state officials said there's no reason the lockdown should continue.
"We are losing tax revenue. People's lives are on the line. They are desperate to return to work," Moody said.
Earlier this month, the CDC released updated guidelines for the cruise industry, recommending "that all eligible port personnel and travelers (passengers and crew) get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available to them."
The governor said cruise ship passengers should not be required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination, also known as a "vaccine passport," a practice that was banned in Florida earlier this month.
"It's not necessary. It causes a huge amount of problems," DeSantis said. "It's not something that I want to restrict people based on whether they've gotten the vaccine."
The CDC began taking steps to restart the cruise industry back in October when it issued a "conditional sailing order" that sets guidelines for how cruise lines test and screen crew members for COVID-19.
Speaking in Port Canaveral last month, DeSantis urged the federal government and CDC to lift the no-sail order by June to get the Sunshine State's "crippled" cruise ship industry back on track.
"They have not taken sufficient action," DeSantis said on Thursday. "So we believe it is time for us to vindicate the state's rights."
The Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, which offers two-night cruises out of the Port of Palm Beach, said it will relaunch its website on Friday with a more streamlined experience for customers, including an updated booking engine and new information about safety protocols, as well as "some exciting offers," according to company officials.
Oneil Khosa, the CEO of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, released this statement to WPTV:
"We appreciate the Governor’s support of our industry and welcome any action that will help us return swiftly to cruising. We believe the industry has taken the critical steps needed to ensure a safe, fun experience for travelers and Americans are ready to get back out there. It’s time for cruising to open back up again and when it does, we will be ready."
Just hours before the governor's major announcement, Norwegian Cruise Line appealed to passengers on Twitter, urging them to "Let your voice be heard & ask our elected representatives to allow cruising to resume in the United States."
Let’s get cruising! Let your voice be heard & ask our elected representatives to allow cruising to resume in the United States by texting the number below or by visiting our portal at 👉 https://t.co/pxbO2tYMFl pic.twitter.com/in9knvw11y— Cruise Norwegian (@CruiseNorwegian) April 8, 2021
WPTV has emailed the CDC for a comment regarding Florida's lawsuit, but has not heard back.
Earlier this week, CDC spokeswoman Jade Fulce hinted at a soft reopening of the U.S. cruise industry over the summer, saying in a written statement:
"CDC is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising following the phased approach outlined in the conditional sailing order. This goal aligns with the desire to resume passenger operations in the United States expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers; hopefully, by mid-summer with restricted revenue sailings."