Latest legal twists and turns in Florida cruise ship spat

2021-07-25T19:50:58+00:00 July 25th, 2021|Safety|

In the latest twist to the Florida versus the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) spat, last Friday, the US State of Florida’s Attorney General asked the US Supreme Court to block federal health restrictions placed on the cruise ship industry amid the pandemic.

In a 31-page brief, Attorney General, Ashley Moody (Rep) (pictured) argued that the CDC limits exceeded the agency’s authority under federal law.

“The statute grants the CDC limited powers to enact traditional quarantine measures,” the brief said. “It does not permit the agency to remake the entire cruise ship industry.”

The request was filed to Justice Clarence Thomas, who handles emergency matters arising from Florida and surrounding states and who can act on the application alone or refer the matter to the rest of the justices, local US media reported.

A Tampa (Fla) federal judge last month agreed with Florida, finding that the CDC’s measure amounted to an unlawful government overreach.

However, last week federal appeals court panel on a divided vote agreed to halt the enforcement of that ruling while the CDC appealed, prompting Florida to ask the Supreme Court to lift the stay.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (Rep) earlier this week sounded a confident tone when discussing the state’s legal challenge in the case, Florida v. Xavier Becerra, The Hill reported..

“I think that most courts at this point have had their limit with the CDC issuing these dictates without a firm statutory basis,” he said at a press conference in Poinciana (Fla).

Earlier, the US appeals court had put on hold a lower-court decision that decreed that the CDC could not enforce its coronavirus cruise ship rules in Florida.

Last month, US District Judge, Steven Merryday in siding with Republican-led Florida found the state was “highly likely” to show the CDC exceeded its authority in adopting rules governing the resumption of cruise ship sailing, Reuters explained in a report.

The brief order from the 11th Circuit panel came about 10 minutes before Judge Merryday’s ruling was to take effect on 18th July, which would have made the CDC rules a non-binding recommendation rather than mandatory.

In May, the CDC began to approve some cruise operations after talks with the industry about health and safety protocols.

Its conditional sail order (CSO) said cruise lines that ensured at least 95% of passengers and nearly all crew were vaccinated could bypass simulated/test voyages thus moving more quickly to the resumption of cruising with guests on board.

The US Justice Department said in a filing with the appeals court that “there is no basis to lift the COVID-19 health and safety protocols that were developed by (CDC) in collaboration with the cruise ship industry.”

Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis had argued that the CDC rules disregarded “the freedom of Floridians to make decisions for their families.”

In April, Florida claimed that its ports had suffered a decline in operating revenue of almost $300 mill since the pandemic started.

Recently, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) sued the state of Florida saying a state law was preventing it “from safely and soundly resuming passenger cruise operations” from Miami starting on 15th August.

A judge has set an 6th August preliminary injunction hearing.

Florida state law expressly prohibits cruise lines from requiring documentation of COVID-19 vaccines, Reuters explained.

In a statement, NCLH said, ‘In an effort to do our part as a responsible corporate citizen to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in March, 2020 our company suspended all cruise operations across our three brands worldwide.

‘The swift deployment of vaccines has been the primary vehicle for people to safely get back to their everyday lives while containing the spread of the virus. Our company has invested heavily in our comprehensive, multi-layered SailSAFE health and safety programme with science-backed protocols developed in conjunction with the nation’s top scientific and public health experts.

‘With our extensive planning and preparation, we are ready to resume sailing from Florida ports on 15th August, 2021. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts we have been unable to reach a reasonable and mutually agreeable solution with the State of Florida that would allow us to require documentation confirming guests’ vaccination status prior to boarding.

‘Despite the ongoing global pandemic and the accelerating spread of the Delta variant, Florida continues to prohibit us from requiring vaccine documentation, which we believe would enable us to resume sailing in the safest way possible.

‘We believe Florida’s prohibition is on the wrong side of federal law, public health, science and is not in the best interest of the welfare of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit, therefore, we have reluctantly turned to the courts for relief.

‘We have asked the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida to invalidate Florida’s prohibition and to grant us a preliminary injunction to allow our company to resume sailing with stringent health and safety protocols to minimise, to the greatest extent possible, further spread of COVID-19.

‘We strongly believe in the merits of our submissions, which speak for themselves, and we will not be commenting further outside of court. Our policy of 100% vaccination of guests and crew is consistent and in place without issue in every port we sail from around the world except for Florida.

‘Florida is the cruise capital of the world and has been our company’s home since our founding in 1966 and we pride ourselves on continuing our good relations and contributions to our local community. It gives us no pleasure to be pursuing this lawsuit, which was our last resort.

‘Nothing takes priority over the health and safety of our guest, crew and the communities we visit; our commitment to them is paramount.’ NCLH said.