Gov. Ron DeSantis says cruise ships need to start sailing immediately.
Arguing that the state is at risk of losing billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody on Thursday filed a lawsuit against federal health officials for sidelining the cruise industry.
The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Tampa, asks a federal judge to lift restrictions imposed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that have idled cruise ships in the U.S. for more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We don’t believe the federal government has the right to mothball a major industry for over a year, based on very little evidence and very little data,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Miami, where he was joined by Moody and more than a dozen cruise-industry workers.
The lawsuit came after guidance released Monday by the CDC recommending that all staff members and travelers be vaccinated before going on cruise ships. The recommendations did not mandate vaccinations but require that masks be worn aboard cruise ships.
Since the end of October, the cruise industry has been under a conditional sail order that outlines a phased approach to resuming operations in U.S. waters, starting with testing and additional safeguards for crew members. The October protocols, issued by former President Donald Trump’s administration, are slated to remain in effect until Nov. 1.
“There’s really just no end in sight, because whatever they do next, it’s probably going to be so cumbersome that the cruise lines aren’t even gonna be able to sail under some ridiculous order having to do all these other things,” DeSantis said Thursday.
The lawsuit, which names CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and her agency, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, and the Biden administration as defendants, accuses federal health officials of governmental overreach by imposing lengthy restrictions on the industry.
“The CDC does not have the authority to issue year-and-a-half-long nationwide lockdowns of entire industries. And even if it did, its actions here are arbitrary and capricious and otherwise violate the Administrative Procedures Act,” the 21-page lawsuit said. “Absent this court’s intervention, Florida will lose hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. And, more importantly, the approximately 159,000 hard-working Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry could lose everything.”
Moody joined DeSantis in slamming Biden’s administration for not lifting cruise restrictions as the number of people who have received COVID-19 vaccinations continues to rise and mortality rates associated with the virus are down.
“We have people floundering We are losing tax revenue. People’s lives are on the line. They are desperate to return to work, and we will not sit back in Florida while the freedom of people’s lives and their businesses are at stake,” Moody told reporters.
Cruise operators have resumed sailing in other parts of the world, such as Europe and the Bahamas, and other travel industries “have reopened successfully with reasonable COVID-19 protocols,” the lawsuit said.
“But as these industries begin to restart and rebuild, the cruise industry has been singled out, and unlike the rest of America, prevented from reopening,” the state’s lawyers argued. “As a result, the industry is on the brink of financial ruin.”
The CDC did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. Cruise ships were idled last year after high-profile COVID-19 outbreaks aboard ships early in the pandemic.
No cruise company in the U.S. has begun the two-phase test voyages that are part of the four-phase protocol released by the CDC in the fall, according to the lawsuit.
PortMiami, Port Canaveral, and Port Everglades are three of the top cruise ports in the world, with large passenger ships also operating out of the Port of Tampa Bay, the Port of Palm Beach and JaxPort. Sixty percent of the nation’s cruises set sail from the Sunshine State, according to the lawsuit.