Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order this week banning any entity in the state from mandating a vaccination from their employees or customers. With the three biggest cruise companies in the world operating from Galveston, what are the consequences?
Cruise ships have a vaccine mandate in place because destinations the cruise ships sail to will not allow those ships in if sailing with unvaccinated adults. The Texas Governor has put the cruise companies in a potential Catch-22 position.
By Texas law, they cannot mandate a vaccination from their guests, while the destinations will not allow the ships in without all guests over the age of 12 being fully vaccinated.
What Is the Possible Impact on Cruise Lines?
When the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands mandated that all adults onboard cruise ships visiting their countries be fully vaccinated, there was a quick rethink in the cruise industry.
While most cruise companies, such as Carnival Corporation, already had vaccine mandates in place, some companies did not, such as the Royal Caribbean Group ships sailing from the US.
Due to the increased health and safety features onboard, the companies without such mandates were allowed to sail with unvaccinated individuals. The mandates from the Bahamas and other countries changed this; now, most, if not all, cruise companies say a passenger must be fully vaccinated before sailing.
With the ban on these mandates in Texas, the cruise lines face some significant issues. The executive order bans any entity in Texas, including private businesses, from requiring vaccinations for employees or customers, it reads (link downloads a PDF):
“No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including any employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19. I hereby suspend all relevant statutes to the extent necessary to enforce this prohibition.“
In August of this year, the Texas Governor signed another similar executive order, which banned the cruise lines asking for proof of vaccination. Carnival Cruise Line quickly responded by saying that the order did not include the cruise lines.
In a similar fashion, the Port of Galveston seems unfazed by the most recent order, saying: “We have no information indicating any intent to change current cruise operations, which the governor’s office approved prior to the restart of passenger cruise operations in July. Cruise operations are continuing to grow back as a major economic driver for our community, our region and our state.”
Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and JPMorgan Chase are all companies that have already said they will be ignoring the governor’s new executive order. The group of companies says that President Biden’s federal law trumps the executive order signed by Governor Abbott.
“We believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything for American,” said a spokeswoman for American Airlines, based in Fort Worth, Texas.
If this is the case, it provides a way out for the cruise lines. When given a choice between leaving Galveston, a port that major cruise companies sail from, or parting ways with cruises to the Bahamas and a majority of Caribbean ports, the choice will be easy for the cruise industry.
Governor Abbott would seem unlikely to want thousands of Texans working in Galveston wharves, suppliers for cruise lines, farmers supplying produce to the ships, travel agents selling cruises from Texas, hotels servicing cruise passengers, and many others to be without work.
Still, a spokesperson for the state insisted that the ban includes any entity operating in the state, and it would seek fines up to $1,000 per violation.
Experts seem to agree that the new order is more political grandstanding than legally binding, meaning the cruise industry has little to fear:
“Texas has just set itself up for a grand political show, but not a potentially legally sound initiative to stop all vaccine mandates,” said the director of the Center for Public Health Law and Policy at Arizona State University, James Hodge, to the New York Times. “It boils down to a lot more politics than law.”
While the proceedings in Texas provide exciting views on the current debate on vaccine mandates onboard cruise ships, for now, it seems the cruise lines will be able to continue business as usual. If they’re not, the coming weeks could be very interesting indeed.