The federal Judge has finally decided in the lawsuit filed by the State of Florida against the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lift the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO).
This news comes after Florida and the CDC failed to work out their differences under mediation, and cruises out of Florida have remained on hold for 15 months. However, the CDC has been working to resume cruises safely with the cruise lines more recently.
Florida Overrules CDC, Cruises Can Resume
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been vocal about the CDC not allowing cruises to resume in Florida. Now Judge Merryday of the Middle District Court of Florida has ruled in favor of Florida. The state’s motion for a preliminary injection is a go, and it now means that the CDC will not be able to keep its Conditional Sailing Order in place in Florida and cruises can resume.
You can read the order here, stating that the CDC will no longer enforce the hold on cruise ships arriving within or departing from a port in Florida. The Conditional Sailing Order was first introduced at the end of October 2020 and has remained in place ever since and, at times, issued complicated technical instructions as part of the framework.
Cruise lines have called the technical instructions “largely unworkable” earlier in the year. Still, more recently, things have started to move forward, with the CDC making several changes to make it easier to resume sailings.
The preliminary injunction against the Conditional Sailing Order, including any recent technical guidelines, remains until 12:01 AM EDT on July 18, 2021. After that time, the Conditional Sailing Order will only become a consideration, recommendation, or guideline. The CDC will have until July 2, 2021, to issue more simplified guidelines for cruise lines to follow.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody responded to the ruling on June 18:
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the hardworking Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry. The federal government does not, nor should it ever, have the authority to single out and lock down an entire industry indefinitely. I am excited to see the cruise industry get sailing again, and proud to stand with Governor Ron DeSantis against illegal federal overreach and draconian lockdown measures.”
Governor Ron DeSantis, said:
“The CDC has been wrong all along, and they knew it. The CDC and the Biden Administration concocted a plan to sink the cruise industry, hiding behind bureaucratic delay and lawsuits. Today, we are securing this victory for Florida families, for the cruise industry, and for every state that wants to preserve its rights in the face of unprecedented federal overreach.”
Judge Merryday came to the conclusion that the CDC was overstepping its authority by bringing the cruise industry to hold and stopping cruise ships from sailing in the U.S. It’s the first time cruise ships have been suspended for 15 months.
The court ruling said, “Never has CDC (or a predecessor) detained a vessel for more than fifteen months; never has CDC implemented a widespread or industry-wide detention of a fleet of vessels in American waters; never has CDC condition pratique as extensively and burdensomely as the conditional sailing order; and never has CDC imposed restrictions that have summarily dismissed the effectiveness of state regulation and halted for an extended time an entire multi-billion dollar industry nationwide. In a word, never has CDC implemented measures as extensive, disabling and exclusive as those under review in this action.”
On April 8, Attorney General and Governor Desantis filled the lawsuit against the CDC and the Biden administration with the district court in Tampa. Since then, Florida has been backed up by the states of Alaska and Texas in joining against the CDC.
With the cruise industry a major part of the economy in Florida, the order had a huge impact not cruise on the cruise lines themselves but local businesses too. According to Federal Maritime Commission, in the first six months of the pandemic, Florida lost $3.2 billion in economic activity due to the suspension of cruise operations. Up to April 8, over 6,000 former cruise industry employees filed for state unemployment.
There is no doubt on the impact on Florida, and the cruise industry and Judge Merryday agree that the CDC has overstepped. Even though the CSO in Florida no longer has any standing, cruise lines are still set to move forward with their current plans. The first cruise departing from the US is scheduled towards the end of June, with even more cruise ships resuming through the summer.
Cruise lines have only recently started to really ramp up operations and will likely stay on that course and take guidance from the CDC. Major cruise operators in Florida, including Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line, continue to work through health protocols for a safe return. Carnival’s president has also confirmed they continue to work with Florida regarding the vaccine passport ban.