TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Cruises leaving from the United States are still docked — for now.
Federal Judge Steven Merryday promised to rule “as soon as possible” on whether to put the Conditional Sail Order issued by the CDC on hold until the case can move forward, effectively keeping a $55 billion-plus industry moored to the dock in the meantime.
Merryday asked probing questions of attorneys on both sides — after lightheartedly telling the attorneys he promised not to — in a 6-hour hearing in Tampa on Wednesday.
Attorneys for the state of Florida argued the CDC doesn’t have the authority to issue the Conditional Sail Order (CSO), a four-phase plan to get cruises sailing again that, despite multiple updates since it was issued in October, has failed to do so.
Pressed by Merryday, Florida Assistant Solicitor General Jason Hilborn also said the initial No Sail Order last March was unlawful, pointing to last week’s ruling in another federal district striking down the CDC’s eviction moratorium.
Federal attorney Amy Powell argued the CDC has broad authority in a pandemic, and the safety of passengers aboard cruise ships is much more within the agency’s purview than housing.
Hilborn claimed Florida had standing to bring the lawsuit due to financial injuries the state has suffered because of the cruise industry shutdown, including loss of revenue for Florida businesses resulting in lower tax revenue for the state, and job losses forcing more state unemployment disbursements.
Some cruises have operated in Europe in recent months, but the “big three” cruise lines – Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian – have yet to fully resume operations out of the U.S.
That has hurt Florida’s economy, where about 60% of U.S. cruises depart.
The CSO allows cruise lines to move past test cruises and directly to revenue-generating cruises if they can prove 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are vaccinated.
Florida enacted a state law earlier this month banning ‘vaccine passports,’ mimicking an executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis weeks earlier and putting him at odds with his own advocacy for the cruise industry – including this lawsuit.
Last week, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Frank Del Rio told investors on an earnings call that the company may leave Florida if it is unable to require passengers to be vaccinated.
“We hope that this hasn’t become a legal or political football,” said Del Rio. “But at the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellers and rudders. And God forbid, we can’t operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states that we do operate from.”