The third-largest cruise company in the world asked a federal judge Tuesday to overturn a new Florida law that bars companies from requiring cruise passengers provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination, escalating the industry’s battle with Governor Ron DeSantis.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is suing Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, arguing that the law prevents the company from operating safely by unnecessarily putting cruise passengers and crew members at risk of contracting the virus. The company plans to restart cruises on its ships from Florida ports on Aug. 15 and require all passengers be vaccinated.
The company asked the judge to lift the ban by Aug. 6 and called its ability to require proof of vaccination from passengers “a matter of life and death.” The Florida law allows the state to fine businesses $5,000 each time they require a patron to provide COVID-19 vaccination information.
The lawsuit is an escalation in the ongoing feud between DeSantis and the powerful cruise industry. Previously, when DeSantis said he would not create an exception to the new law for cruise companies, Norwegian CEO Frank Del Rio threatened to move his cruise ships out of Florida. The company reiterated that stance in Tuesday’s court filing: “The only way NCLH could maintain its protocols and operations as currently planned is by abandoning Florida altogether.”
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is parent to cruise brands Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas. Miami-Dade County spent $263 million on a new terminal for Norwegian at PortMiami that was completed last year. In the legal filing, Del Rio said the company plans to restart cruises from Florida ports on 15 ships through the fall and winter.
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all cruise passengers be vaccinated, but does not require it. Under the agency’s regulations, ships that don’t have at least 95% of passengers and crew vaccinated have to first perform two-day test cruises.
Last month, a federal judge in Tampa ruled that the CDC’s cruise regulations cannot remain in place after Sunday in a case brought by DeSantis. The CDC’s appeal is pending with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. In new court filings Tuesday, Norwegian voiced its support for the CDC’s appeal with the 11th Circuit.
“Ironically, the only impediment to NCLH safely sailing as planned is currently posed by Florida, not CDC,” the company said in its brief.
Christina Pushaw, press secretary for the governor’s office, said in an email that Norwegian and the CDC are discriminating against children and others who cannot or choose not to get vaccinated. The Federal Drug Administration has only approved COVID-19 vaccine use for children 12 years old and older.
“Florida already fought and won its case so that Norwegian and all other cruise lines can invite and serve all Americans on its vessels,” she said. “But apparently Norwegian prefers the shackles of the CDC to the freedom offered by Florida.”
Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises have already restarted cruises from Florida ports this summer with varying vaccine policies. Spokespeople for Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Group, parent company of Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.