The lawsuit against the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the agency’s actions “arbitrary and capricious” and asks the court to “set aside the CDC’s unlawful actions and hold that cruises should be allowed to operate with reasonable safety protocols.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during Thursday’s news briefing that she didn’t have a direct response to the lawsuit.
“But I will just reiterate that the CDC guidance is based on data and health and medical guidelines,” she said. The CDC declined to comment on the move.
The lawsuit comes amid mounting tension between the cruise industry and the CDC, which last week rolled out additional safety instructions for cruise lines, even if passengers are vaccinated. A trade group on Monday called the new requirements “unduly burdensome” and “largely unworkable” and doubled down on its request to sail again by early July.
Earlier this week, the agency said it was committed to working with the industry to start cruising following a phased approach it laid out in a conditional sailing order late last year.
“This goal aligns with the desire for resumption of passenger operations in the United States expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers, hopefully by midsummer,” the agency said.
Several operators have announced in recent weeks that they will start to base ships in other countries — including the Bahamas, Bermuda, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Greece — because they still don’t have permission to depart from the United States.
“If we do not do this, you will see cruises continue to move these cruises to other countries,” Florida’s attorney general, Ashley Moody, said at the news conference. “The Biden administration has had numerous opportunities to engage and put America’s businesses first, Florida’s businesses first. And instead he has allowed the playing field to be tilted to the benefit of foreign countries, and Florida will not allow that to happen.”
While the world’s largest cruise operators are headquartered in South Florida, they are all incorporated overseas, and almost all of their ships fly the flags of other countries.
Florida is home to the world’s busiest ports, which see millions of cruise passengers in a normal year. Last year, ports in Fort Lauderdale and Miami became the last resort for ships that had been turned away by other countries during a scramble to return all cruise vessels to land.
Some of those ships had passengers on board who were sick or died of the coronavirus. At the time, DeSantis initially said he did not want passengers from those ships to be “dumped into South Florida.” He also acknowledged at the time that cruise ships, some of which suffered major outbreaks, had taken up a lot of government resources.
On Thursday, he pointed out that much had changed in the past year, thanks to the widespread availability of vaccines, testing and more effective treatments.
Most cruise lines that have announced plans to restart have said they will either require all crew and passengers or all adult passengers to be fully vaccinated, either sailing from the United States or other countries. The CDC is recommending that crew and passengers be vaccinated but is not requiring it.
DeSantis and other speakers Thursday repeatedly touted the country’s vaccination progress and said the CDC should have already take that into account when deciding when cruise ships can sail. The governor said that companies didn’t need the agency to enforce certain protocols and that they understand what moves they need to take to make their customers comfortable.
But he also suggested one key component of a cruise comeback — companies’ own vaccine requirements — would be off limits in Florida. DeSantis signed an executive order last week that prohibited businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, the Associated Press reported.
“You can go to a restaurant, you can get on a cruise ship, you can go to a movie theater without the company demanding that you show them your health information,” he said Thursday. “It’s just not necessary to do.”
He said people who were concerned about infection should get vaccinated.
“But it is a choice, and it’s not something that I want to restrict people based on whether they’ve got the” vaccine, he said.