Florida’s Vaccine Passport Ban Complicates Cruise Restart Plans

With Florida's ban on vaccine passports, cruise line restart plans are becoming complicated. The first cruise ship aims to resume in June.

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Celebrity Cruises announced it would start sailing at the end of June with the Celebrity Edge from Fort Lauderdale on June 26. Carnival Cruise Line received permission to start sailing from three US ports (including two in Florida), and Royal Caribbean is underway to start operations from Florida. This week has been full of great news for the cruise industry. But there might be a catch.

Governor DeSantis of Florida has made it clear again he is not amused with the CDC’s mandate for cruises with vaccinated guests only. Florida’s Governor recently signed a new bill that would ban businesses from requiring customers to present a vaccine passport.

A Fine for Asking Passengers to Show Vaccine Passport

A statement issued by the Governor’s office made it clear where he stands regarding Celebrity Cruises’ first cruise in more than 15 months from the United States.

Although the Governor presented himself as a fervent supporter of the cruise industry, he has also been opposed to the vaccine requirements and there could be a fine of $5,000 each time a cruise line asks a passenger to show a vaccine passport. The statement said the following:

“Celebrity Cruises’ vaccine requirements violate the spirit of the Governor’s Emergency Order 21-81, which prohibits vaccine passports and protects the fundamental rights of Floridians – including the right to medical privacy. The policy would also be a violation of Florida’s recently enacted law banning vaccine passports, SB 2006, effective July 1. Companies doing business in Florida, including Celebrity Cruises, should immediately cease to impose such discriminatory policies upon individuals. Companies that violate this law would be subject to a fine of $5,000 each time they require a customer to present a “vaccine passport” for service.”

While the cruise lines have maintained that they do not see any issues with the new bill, Governor DeSantis sees this differently. The question is now whether or not the Governor’s bill has any legal standing regarding the cruise lines.

Florida Governor at Port Canaveral
Photo Posted: Governor DeSantis

Catering to His Base

Some say that DeSantis is merely catering to a section of his supporters. Whether or not that is the case remains to be seen. Nonetheless, Jim Walker, a maritime lawyer, said this to USA Today:

“It is conceivable that Gov. DeSantis could blink, so to speak, and the Florida statute could be withdrawn, but he seems committed to making a direct political move catering to his base.”

Christina Pushaw, who acts as the press secretary for Governor DeSantis, disagrees. In a statement, she believes that requiring cruise ship passengers to be vaccinated “not only violates civil liberties but also discriminates against families with children who enjoy vacations.” The CDC has “no legal authority” to set requirements for cruise lines. If the CDC and the Department of Health have no authority to set requirements for cruise lines, it stands to reason that this also counts for Governor DeSantis’ bill.

Dr. Jay Wolfson, a public health and law professor at the University of South Florida, told WTSP 10 Tampa Bay:

“They’re not a Florida company. I don’t think any of them really are. Cruise ships are requiring vaccinations to protect not just themselves and the other passengers, It really protects the economic viability of the cruise ship industry.”

With most cruise lines having offices in the State of Florida, in most cases, the companies are ‘officially’ based elsewhere. The CDC’s authority overrules DeSantis concerning health requirements on cruise ships, but a cruise line would likely have to take the Governor to court to clarify this. There is a solution that could put DeSantis’ bill in the bin; a federal statute requiring proof of vaccination would override state law.

Cruise Vaccine

What are the Cruise Lines Saying?

Celebrity Cruises, in the meantime, seems unaffected by the threats from the Governor’s office. The cruise line says it will go ahead with the first cruise from US soil since March last year, with vaccinated guests:

“Our commitment to sail with fully vaccinated crew members and guests still stands, as it is a meaningful layer to ensure we make every effort to help keep safe our guests, crew, and the communities we visit,”

Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Frank Del Rio made it clear earlier this month he believes a compromise is possible, however, if not, he has no issues to pull his ships out of Florida:

“At the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellers and rudders, and God forbid we can’t operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states that we do operate from, and we can operate from the Caribbean for a ship that otherwise would have gone to Florida,”

The bill would also put the simulated voyages in danger that are scheduled for June as well. Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruises plan to make these test cruises. The issue here is that the CDC still requires the cruise lines to check the vaccination status of the guests onboard. Something the DeSantis bill will prohibit.

The entire situation is placing a black cloud over what would otherwise have been a month of celebrations as one of the last industries to be on hold is resuming business once again. If it turns out there is a legal basis for the bill, we could see even more cancelations once again.

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