Key West Votes for Cruise Ship Limits

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Many communities around the world are suffering economic damage due to the lack of cruise ships visiting the areas and providing the necessary boost to local economies. While these communities are scrambling to get cruise ships back in town, the residents of Key West, Florida, have now taken a different route.

The Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships has been campaigning not to ban ships completely from the islands in southern Florida but to shrink the cruise ship tourism footprint in Key West. 

Cruise ships are the backbone of the local economy, however, not all the effects of visiting cruise ships are positive ones. While 597,000 cruise ship passengers filled Duval Street in 1999, in 2019, 910,000 cruise ship passengers from 417 ships visited the community of 24,000.

During the past few months of the pandemic, however, cruise ship travel has ceased. Once the locals saw the changes that came with a lack of cruise ships in the port and healthier, cleaner, and clearer water, the burden the ships place on the local environment was one of the main reasons for Key West residents to demand action from their local government.

Three New Rules Passed

During the election vote for the presidency, the locals voted in three different rules. These were:

  • Limit the number of daily cruise ship visitors at 1,500Limiting daily disembarkations will lower the risk of an infectious disease outbreak that would overwhelm our limited health infrastructure.
  • Prohibit cruise ships with 1,300 passengers or more from dockingLarge cruise ships have a higher risk of infectious disease outbreak than small ships. Small ships carry fewer people and can be sanitized more easily after an outbreak.
  • Give docking priority to cruise lines that have the best health and environmental recordsAccording to scores by the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program and records of environmental violations, cruise ships will be prioritized. This will further reduce the risk of an infectious disease outbreak.

While it would seem that the locals are destroying their economy, one of the reasons they believe not to be the case is this: Construction orders through 2024 show that 45% of all new ships being built would qualify to call on Key West after the referenda.

Key West Not the First to Ban Ships

In recent years, more and more cities and countries have placed bans on ships to enter certain areas, or implemented varied restrictions on the types of ships that may use port facilities.

Cannes, France, has banned large cruise ships from the port unless they make significant concessions to environmental factors; the nearby town of Saint Raphael has made a similar decision.

Santorini in Greece has placed a maximum of 8,000 cruise passengers per day to visit the famous scenic town on the edge of a volcano. And last but not least, Venice in Italy has now banned large cruise liners from entering the old canal system. This comes after an MSC ship crashed with a river vessel in the town in 2019.

With the arrival of more and larger ships worldwide, it is no surprise that communities are coming together to see what the trade-off would be. The facts are clear, while cruise ships bring in a significant amount of money for the local economy, environmental damage should be avoided. Different communities will need to find the balance that works not only for their own economies, but also to protect their natural resources and local infrastructure.

While the residents of Key West can be commended for seeking a middle ground, it would be interesting to hear what the large cruise lines have to say on this issue. One court case is already coming, that between the owner of the pier, and the city, the Miami Herald reports. Cruise Hive will continue to update this important issue so you know what to expect when setting sail for Key West.

Photo Credit: Mia2you /

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