States Join Efforts to Pressure CDC to Restart U.S. Cruise Industry

Florida Alaska call on CDC to restart US cruises
Flordia's governor sues to restart cruise industry (Port Canaveral)

Published Apr 9, 2021 4:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

States hard hit by the ongoing shut down of the U.S. cruise industry are launching steps designed to get the U.S. federal government to revise the positions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to resume cruise ship departures from U.S. ports. Florida and Alaska, two of the states the hardest hit by the current pause in cruising, launched efforts to resume the industry coming as the cruise lines and its trade association also called for citizens to write their congressional representatives in support of restarting cruises.

“We must allow our cruise liners and their employees to get back to work and safely set sail again,” said Florida Governor DeSantis. “To be clear, no federal law authorizes the CDC to indefinitely impose a nationwide shutdown of an entire industry.” DeSantis highlighted the vital role cruising plays to Florida’s economy employing thousands of people and indirect contributions from people arriving in Florida to sail on cruises.

Following up on prior statements from the governor, Florida announced it is suing the Biden Administration in federal district court to overturn what it is calling “the unlawful Conditional Sailing Order enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” According to the state’s attorney general, “the unprecedented year-long lockdown of an entire industry by the federal government has directly harmed the State of Florida, its citizens, and their families, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in economic activity.”

According to the lawsuit, the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order harms Florida and its citizens by preventing numerous businesses and employees from earning a living and contributing to the state’s unemployment. They also said that by blocking the cruise industry the order is contributing to the massive shortfalls in revenues experienced by the state’s seaports and reducing state and local tax revenues.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody blamed the Biden administration for the cruise industry shut down, although it was the Trump administration with enacted the no sail orders in the spring of 2020 and the revision of the orders in the fall of 2020 without following through to provide the industry a clear path to restart service. Faced with criticism that it is unfairly singling out the cruise industry on the basis of outdated data, the CDC this week said that it could foresee cruise ships returning to service this summer. Florida has been calling on the CDC to “adapt its guidelines to the ever-changing nature of the country’s pandemic response,” and filed the lawsuit to end the orders preventing cruise ships from departing from U.S. ports.

Concurrently, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy sent a letter to the Biden administration in which he echoes that same message. “Today, I am reaching out with the simple request that you have the CDC update its guidance to enable cruise lines and ports to resume operations,” said the letter. “It’s my hope that (federal authorities) are willing to work with me and other governors seeking to bring back the cruise ship industry.” The letter cites the findings of a new report detailing the economic impacts to Alaska and attributing a $3 billion gross state product loss each year the cruise season does not take place.

Separately, members of the Alaska state and federal congressional delegations were trying to address Canada’s 2021 ban on large cruise ships, which was a hurdle to the restoration of large cruise ship operations this summer. While the governor’s letter fails to address the issue, the legislators had called for the U.S. to provide a temporary waiver for its cabotage regulations that require the large cruise ships to make a stop in Canada during cruises in Alaska.

Many of the cruise companies blocked from resuming operations from the U.S. ports are planning to reposition ships this summer into the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Bermuda as well as Europe to restart operations outside the jurisdiction of the CDC. Carnival Cruise Lines, which so far has not announced non-U.S. cruises, threatened this week to begin repositioning its cruise ships. Parent company CEO Arnold Donald told investors on a conference call, “if we're unable to sail obviously, we will consider home porting elsewhere."

The Cruise Lines International trade association launched an “action center” calling on individuals to write their congressional leaders and the Biden administration to restart the cruise industry. The center provides instructions and prepared statements and several of the major cruise lines began distributing links to their loyal customers.

These concerted efforts come after the CDC issued only a partial update a week ago providing technical steps but no timeline or actions to restart cruising from U.S. ports.