Another cruise line will require vaccines; DeSantis says no

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SilverSea Cruises became the second major cruise line to announce it will require COVID-19 vaccinations for all passengers when it resumes global itineraries on June 5.

The decision could set up a confrontation with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when the luxury cruise line is scheduled to sail from Port Everglades in December.

DeSantis’ press office on Monday asserted that his recent executive order barring businesses from requiring proof of vaccinated customers extends to cruise lines operating in Florida.

“The Governor’s Executive Order provides that businesses in Florida are prohibited from requiring patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-transmission recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business,” press secretary Cody McCloud said by email. “Therefore, the Executive Order prohibits cruise lines from requiring vaccine passports for their Florida operations.”

SilverSea’s announcement follows Norwegian Cruise Line’s statement last week that it would require full vaccinations if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allows it to resume sailing in July. The cruise line is scheduled to run trips out of Port Miami beginning in September.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings also operates Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceana Cruises.

SilverSea’s requirement will take effect when the company launches its first cruise since the pandemic on June 5 — a seven-day Galapagos Islands voyage from Ecuador. No voyages from U.S. ports are scheduled until Aug. 29, a 26-day trip to Japan from Anchorage, Alaska.

Four sailings are scheduled from Port Everglades in December aboard the ships Silver Whisper, Silver Dawn and Silver Spirit. SilverSea is a luxury cruise line, with fares that run into thousands of dollars.

Whether DeSantis actually has authority to bar cruise lines from requiring vaccinations could become the focus of a legal battle involving the cruise lines and the CDC.

The Coast Guard and the CDC have asserted control over pandemic-related cruise line activity at the port, but most decisions have been made by a “unified command” that includes the state, federal and county governments, working with the cruise lines, said Ellen Kennedy, spokeswoman for Port Everglades.

Asked about DeSantis’ assertion, Port Director Jonathan Daniels said by email: “We are working with the cruise lines and through all local, state and federal regulations and guidelines to effect a safe restart to cruising.”

However, attorneys familiar with issues of government regulations and maritime law question whether DeSantis’ authority extends to cruise lines, which are foreign-registered corporations operating foreign-flagged ships in mostly international waters.

Dawn Myers, a partner with the government and regulatory team at Miami-based Berger Singerman, last week said DeSantis likely has no authority under interstate law, international law or maritime law to bar cruise lines from requiring vaccinations unless cruise ships were merely traveling from one Florida port to another.

Jim Walker, a South Florida attorney who specializes in maritime law, accused DeSantis of wanting to “have his cake and eat it too” by calling for the CDC to allow cruise lines to resume operations while prohibiting cruise lines from requiring vaccinations. “Both of these issues are well outside the jurisdiction of a state governor,” he said recently.

DeSantis on Thursday announced that state Attorney General Ashley Moody filed suit against the CDC, claiming it violated federal procedures when it ordered cruise lines to obtain certification before they could resume. All cruising from the U.S. has been shut down since March 2020, when numerous ships experienced COVID-19 outbreaks among passengers and crew members.

Spokesmen for Carnival and Royal Caribbean said Monday that no decisions have been made regarding vaccination policies for U.S.-based voyages.

Previously, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises announced that passengers over age 16 must be vaccinated for summer cruises launching from Israel between May and October.

Royal Caribbean cruises launching from Nassau, Bahamas; and Bermuda this summer will require vaccinations for passengers 18 and over. Younger passengers will be able to cruise if they test negative for COVID-19.

Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean’s sister company, will also allow passengers under 18 to board Caribbean voyages out of St. Maarten beginning June 5.

Still, “we have not yet made a determination to mandate vaccines (on U.S.-based trips) at this time,” Carnival Corp. spokesman Roger Frizzell said in response to questions about how his company plans to handle the issue across its eight brands, which include Holland America, Costa, Cunard, Seabourn and Princess. “We will continue to monitor the evolving situation with vaccines globally.”

Major cruise lines have called upon the CDC to provide guidelines that would enable them to resume cruising from U.S. ports this July. Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group representing most of the world’s major cruise lines, last week criticized updated guidelines released by the CDC in late March as “burdensome” and “unworkable.”

Cruise lines argue that CDC guidance issued in October is outdated because it was issued before vaccines were developed and does not take into account protections that the cruise lines have since adopted on their own.

CLIA says the cruise industry has been treated unfairly compared to just about all other leisure industries that have been allowed to resume with preventative measures such as mask mandates and social distancing.

Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy appeared on the WPLG-TV public affairs show This Week in South Florida and said the CDC hasn’t yet provided guidance for test sailings that the agency is requiring that the cruise lines conduct or what kind of vaccines will be required.

“So we really don’t have the kind of details or transparency or engagement with CDC to begin sailing by this summer,” she said.

Asked whether the CDC should require that passengers be vaccinated, Duffy said: “We do not believe that the cruise industry in the U.S. should be treated any differently than other forms of travel, tourism or entertainment. And so at this time, people are able to get on a plane and fly outside of the U.S., take a cruise and come back into the U.S. without any type of vaccine or passport.”

Jaime Katz, a senior equity analyst at investment research firm Morningstar Inc., said most cruise lines have been cautious “not to paint themselves into a corner on policies that have not been established yet.”

DeSantis’ assertion of authority over the cruise lines, she said, “adds an extra twist to the storyline.”

“He obviously thinks the CDC has overstepped its bounds. It will be interesting to see what the response from the cruise lines might be.”

Spokespersons for Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean and Norwegian did not respond to questions about how DeSantis’ assertion might affect their COVID-19 prevention plans.