New Florida Bill Could Ditch Cruise Ship Limits in Key West

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The ban on large cruise ships imposed by ‘The Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships’ could potentially be in danger, as Senator Jim Boyd has proposed Senate Bill 426. In this bill, local governments are not allowed to impose any bans on any ships.

“A local government may not restrict or regulate commerce in the seaports of this state,…including, but not limited to, regulating or restricting a vessel’s type or size, source or type of cargo, or number, origin, or nationality of passengers.”

The bill gives state legislators the power to preemptively enforce existing state laws re- commercial maritime operations and block local city and county governments from restricting vessel size or passenger count.

Related: Key West Votes for Cruise Ship Limits

What’s This All About?

The Florida Keys have been a hotly contested area between environmental organizations, local groups, and governments. A natural haven for many wildlife species, Key West, is also the most popular cruise destination in the United States. In 2019 the port counted 910,000 cruise ship passengers from 417 ships.

After cruise ship travel died down since the pandemic took effect, local citizens and government have been looking at restricting the number of cruise passengers passing through the port each day.

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

  • Limit the number of daily cruise ship visitors to 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.
Cruise Ships in Key West
Photo Credit: Mia2you /

A Dangerous Precedent

Although these rules will offer a certain measure of protection for the local wildlife and environment, according to Senator Jim Boyd, these rules also set a dangerous precedent.

 “…allowing each local government in which a Florida seaport is located to impose its requirements on the maritime commerce conducted in that port could result in abrupt changes in the supply lines bringing goods into and out of this state, thus disrupting Florida’s economy and threatening the public’s health, safety, and welfare, and allowing each local government to impose its own requirements on the maritime commerce conducted in that port.”

As Keys Weekly reports, not everyone is in favor of keeping the ships out of Key West. For many restaurants, bars, tour agencies, and hotel owners, the cruise ships provide a steady and good income for the many businesses on the island. Restaurant owner Bill Lay, founder of Keep The Cruise Ships, said the following:

“Since March, Keep the Cruise Ships has been of the opinion that a compromise would be in the best interest of our community, to no avail. We spoke, we attended, and most importantly, we were willing to take the time and effort to mend the obvious divide that smothered our community.”

Also Read: 20 Fun Things to Do in Key West, Florida for Cruise Visitors

No vote has been taken as of yet on the bill. To become law, the bill will need to be approved by the state senate and the Florida House of Representatives.

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