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CDC Continues to Ask Courts to Maintain Cruise Restrictions in Florida

cruise restrictions rules CDC Florida
Freedom of the Seas became the first cruise ship to resume sailing from PortMiami (Royal Caribbean International)

Published Jul 9, 2021 7:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

The back-and-forth legal case between Florida and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the restrictions on cruises from U.S. ports continues to focus on the courts. The fate of the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and its impact on cruise ships seeking to depart from Florida now rests with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, while Alaska is seeking to remove itself from the case.

The CDC is seeking to maintain its orders governing the resumption of cruises, which under the District Court’s ruling would change from requirements to recommendations in just over a week. U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday in June found for Florida granting a request for a temporary injunction against the CSO agreeing with Florida that the CDC was causing harm to the state in the form of lost revenues and higher unemployment costs. The judge stayed his order until July 18 offering the CDC the opportunity to revise the regulations to meet the court’s opinion on the limits of the CDC’s authority.

Yesterday, Judge Merryday refused the CDC’s motion to extend the stay on the temporary restraining order on the grounds that the CDC has filed an appeal to the judge’s ruling. The District Court said that it believed Florida was likely to prevail in its case against the CDC on the grounds that the CDC is overstepping its authority, unfairly restricting the cruise industry, and failing to update its regulations to reflect scientific evidence in the fight against COVID-19.

The CDC is appealing the judge’s ruling saying that the CSO is working to provide an orderly restart to cruising within parameters designed to address the potential for a resurgence of the virus due to the confined spaces on cruise ships and the potential exposure to new variants of the virus during port calls. After filing the appeal with the Circuit Court, lawyers for the CDC petitioned the District Court to delay its ruling pending the outcome of the motion before the Circuit Court. 

Merryday responded to the CDC’s actions saying that he no new evidence from the CDC that the temporary restraining order would contribute to the spread of the virus, and he said he was surprised that the CDC did not use the opportunity to submit revisions to the CSO. The CDC can now file with the District Court asking them to stay the enforcement of Merryday’s temporary restraining order.

The District Court’s decisions only pertained to Florida, while both Alaska and Texas have sought to join the case saying that the outcome would also have an impact on cruise tourism in their states. On July 8, Alaska filed a motion with the court, however, seeking to remove itself from the case.

Alaska cited the act by the U.S. Congress that provided a temporary waiver of the cabotage restrictions to make Alaska cruises possible in 2021. Alaska said that the act requires following the CDC’s restrictions in order for the act to be valid and hence they are seeking to withdraw from Florida’s case. "Alaska is subject to the unique requirements of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act that cruise ships visiting Alaska during 2021 must obtain a Conditional Sailing Certificate from the CDC and abide by all conditions of it," lawyers for Alaska wrote to the District Court. Alaska also cited the CDC’s approval of port agreements for the 2021 cruises and the fact that the CDC is moving forward with permission for cruise ships to run simulated voyages or to operate restricted cruises with vaccinated passengers and crew.

The cruise lines continue to find themselves caught between the two sides of the legal fight trying to cautiously proceed while satisfying both the CDC’s restrictions and Florida’s executive order which forbids the use of vaccine passports. Cruise ships are continuing to resume service while they await the next decisions from the courts expected next week addressing the restraining order.