Florida Senators Propose Bill to Resume Cruises

Senators propose bill to resume cruises
Cruise ships i PortMiami prior to the pandemic - courtesy PortMiami

Published Sep 17, 2020 3:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

Momentum is continuing to build towards resuming Florida’s cruise business. The cruise line executives’ recent call for clear guidance and approvals to resume sailing from Florida’s ports has been joined by port executives and associations, and now by government officials. Florida’s Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio announced that they are sponsoring a bill in the U.S. Senate designed to ensure the safety of cruise line passengers and employees while getting Florida’s cruise business back into operation.

Called the Set Sail Safely Act, Senators Scott and Rubio are proposing the establishment of the Maritime Task Force, in coordination with a Private Sector Advisory Committee, to address the health, safety, security, and logistical changes needed to allow for cruise lines and ports to resume operations. 

“Florida is a tourism state with thousands of jobs relying on the success of our ports, cruise lines, and maritime industries,” said Senator Scott introducing the bill. “As we work to solve the coronavirus and safely reopen our economy, this legislation will support the development of guidelines needed to ensure the safe resumption of our cruise lines and port operations. I will continue to work with Floridians, industry, and federal leaders to safely bring back this industry, which is important to our state’s economic success.”

At the core of the bill is the requirement that the proper federal agencies, led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, work together with input from private sector stakeholders to develop a plan for the safe resumption of cruise line operations. Since March, the U.S. cruise industry has been under a “no sail order” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that barred all cruise ships that carry more than 250 passengers from sailing from U.S. ports. Next week, on September 21, the CDC is due to conclude its comment period seeking public input on how and when to resume cruising. The CDC’s current no sail order is due to expire at the end of the month, but they have previously extended their order and are yet to establish a timeline for when cruising might resume. 

“The cruise and maritime industries are vital to the prosperity of our state’s economy, and securing guidance for safely resuming operations is a top priority of mine. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been working with the Administration, officials from the state, and industry leaders to identify ways to mitigate risk in hopes of an eventual return to business,” said Senator Rubio. “I am proud to join Senator Scott in introducing legislation that will provide a roadmap for cruise lines and port authorities to safely resume operations, allowing our valuable tourism economy, and the people it employs, to begin to recover.”

The bill would establish the Maritime Task Force that would include representatives from several federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Coast Guard, Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, Department of State, and the Federal Maritime Commission. It would also include representatives from cruise lines, ports, commercial fishermen, small businesses, and health professionals.

Last week the cruise industry executives, speaking before the Miami-Dade Tourism and the Ports Committee voiced their frustrations at not having a clear path for a return to service. Saying that the country was opening up and had learned how to function while the virus continued to circulate, the executives said the time had come for the cruise industry to get back to business. Speaking on behalf of the industry, the industry trade group, Cruise Lines International Association, hailed this new initiative saying, “The Senators’ bill draws much needed attention to the importance of strategic dialogue between appropriate federal agencies and a broad group of public and private sector stakeholders to safely advance a resumption of cruising in the U.S. that mirrors the gradual and successful restart of cruise operations in Europe.”

The senators also highlighted a broad range of support for their bill from both other sectors of the maritime industry and government. The American Association of Port Authorities, the Florida Ports Council, and Miami-Dade Tourism and the Ports Committee, all expressed their appreciation and support for the bill.

“We are extremely grateful for the introduction of the Set Sail Safely Act sponsored by Senator Rick Scott. The cruise industry is a vital economic driver of both our national and state economies, and the dramatic impact of its closure is felt every day that cruise ships are not in operations. Thousands of jobs have vanished and millions of dollars continue to be lost daily,” concluded Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez.