One of the most vocal supporters of a cruise restart is potentially throwing a spanner in the works for the cruise industry. Governor Rick DeSantis announced this week that he has signed into law a bill that will prevent cruise lines from requiring guests to be vaccinated.
The law will have caused a confusing meeting for the three major cruise companies, those who have been side to side with DeSantis fighting the CDC’s conditional sail order. Could this bill potentially see cruise lines that follow the 95% / 98% mandate move to different states to sail?
COVID-19 Vaccination or Post-Transmission Documentation Prohibited
DeSantis’s executive order says, ‘Businesses in Florida are prohibited from requiring patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery to gain access to, entry upon or service from the business.’ The bill will be taking effect on July 1, 2021.
So cruise lines would not be able to verify whether or not guests had been vaccinated, and as such, would not be able to clear ships with the CDC. A requirement to bypass the test cruises outlined in the conditional sail order.
In an interview a few weeks ago with Fox News, DeSantis reacted to the bill he signed into law:
“I’m very supportive of getting our cruise lines back up and running. That’s actually another area that we’re suing the Biden administration on, because they have closed the cruise lines for a year now, and we think they should be able to sail.”
“But we also don’t think that they should be able to require your personal health information in that regard.”
What Could Happen to Cruises From Florida?
Of course, this doesn’t mean it is the end of the road for any ships sailing from Florida. The CDC identified that cruise lines could bypass the test sailings by sailing with the 98%/95% crew and passenger vaccination rates.
If cruise lines decide that they do not want a vaccination mandate on board, they will have to follow the CSO guidelines and perform the test cruises.
At this point, the ships will be eligible to sail, be it with strict testing and social distancing requirements. This was something that Michael Bayley, the President, and CEO of Royal Caribbean cruises, already confirmed in the earnings call last week. In that, he said the following:
There will be two pathways. One pathway for vaccinated crew and largely vaccinated guests that meet the threshold that the CDC has defined. And that would mean that there wouldn’t be a requirement for a simulated voyage. And then, for ships that wouldn’t meet that threshold for whatever reason, there would be a different timeline and a different set of protocols and requirements.
Legal Questions Remain
According to several opponents and experts in the travel industry, the bill opens the door to several legal challenges that could lead to First Amendment challenges. The bill strips cruise lines of their ability to control their right to associate with unvaccinated people, which are not a protected class under the law.
It could certainly lead to issues with several maritime laws where the cruise lines could be accused of not protecting crew members or passengers aboard their ships. Something that was echoed by Omari Hardy, a West Palm Beach Democrat, in a debate in the Florida House last week:
“I don’t know many people who are going to get on a cruise if they don’t have the security of knowing that the other people on that cruise with them, and in that close environment with them, have also been vaccinated.”
Whether or not DeSantis will apply the law to the cruise lines is another question that will need to be answered. A cruise ship in port falls under local jurisdiction; however, whether that jurisdiction lies with the CDC or the state government remains never-ending.
Of course, it could be that DeSantis decides that the 450,000 workers in the state of Florida need to get back to work and ensures the law does not apply to the cruise lines. That way, the cruise industry can decide if they require a vaccine mandate and have the possibility of an expedited return. Or, the cruise lines can choose to go the second pathway with test cruises and intensive testing onboard the ships.