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Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Sues Florida Over Vaccine Passport Ban 

lawsuit over Florida ban on vaccine passport
Norwegian Bliss docked in Miami a few years ago (Norwegian Cruise Line)

Published Jul 13, 2021 5:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

Caught between the U.S. Center for Disease Control and the state of Florida and the battle over requiring passengers to show proof of vaccinations, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida seeking to invalidate Florida’s rules. The parent company for three cruise lines with a total of 28 ships is asking the court to invalidate Florida’s prohibition and to grant a preliminary injunction so that it can proceed with its plans for cruises in August sailing from Florida’s ports.

“We believe Florida’s prohibition is on the wrong side of federal law, public health, science and is not in the best interest of the welfare of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit, therefore, we have reluctantly turned to the courts for relief,” NCLH said in a prepared statement posted to its website. The cruise line said that it is ready to resume sailing on August 15, but that “the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit is our number one priority.”

NCLH cites the extensive research and efforts of an independent panel the cruise line sponsored to develop health and safety protocols for a return to service. The cruise line initially criticized the CDC’s rules for the resumption of cruising saying that elements such as the requirement for masking were cumbersome for passengers. NCLH later announced that all of its ships would resume sailing following the CDC requirement that 95 percent of passengers and crew were vaccinated, which does not require masking and other public health measures.

Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis has been openly critical of the CDC and its restrictions, and in April directed the state to file suit to block the CDC restrictions. Florida argues that the CDC has overstepped its authority and unfairly restricted the cruise industry causing immediate harm to the state. At the same time, the governor signed a bill barring businesses from requiring proof of vaccinations and potentially exposing the cruise lines that asked for proof to a $5,000 fine for each passenger.

Speaking to investors, NCLH’s CEO and President Frank Del Rio had said that he hoped the situation would not be politicized and that a reasonable solution could be found. It was suggested that the cruise lines might be exempt from the rule once passengers came aboard the ships, but Del Rio said the company had the option of moving ships out of Florida to other homeports. Governor DeSantis flatly rejected any exemptions calling NCLH a smaller cruise line that could be replaced in Florida.

“Unfortunately, despite our best efforts we have been unable to reach a reasonable and mutually agreeable solution with the State of Florida that would allow us to require documentation confirming guests’ vaccination status prior to boarding,” NCLH said in its statement. “Despite the ongoing global pandemic and the accelerating spread of the Delta variant, Florida continues to prohibit us from requiring vaccine documentation, which we believe would enable us to resume sailing in the safest way possible.”

The company said that it strongly believes in the merits of the legal action, but that “It gives us no pleasure to be pursuing this lawsuit, which was our last resort.” NCLH is asking the court to rule on its request for an injunction by August 6 so that it can proceed with its planned cruises.