If Florida won’t allow Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for passengers and crew, the company’s CEO says it will take its ships elsewhere.
CEO Frank Del Rio made the threat during an earnings call Thursday, just days after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature that bans businesses, schools and government entities in Florida from asking anyone to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is the world’s third largest cruise company, parent to cruise brands Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas. Miami-Dade County spent $263 million building a terminal for Norwegian at PortMiami that finished construction last year.
“At the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellers and rudders, and God forbid we can’t operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states that we do operate from. And we can operate from the Caribbean for ships that otherwise would’ve gone to Florida,” Del Rio said.
Del Rio reiterated the company’s commitment to guarantee that everyone on its cruise ships will be vaccinated when cruises restart in the U.S. Competitors Royal Caribbean Group and Carnival Corporation will require 100 percent vaccination for upcoming cruises in other countries like the United Kingdom and Israel but have not yet announced whether U.S. cruises will have the same requirement.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can’t require 100 percent vaccination and is leaving that decision to cruise companies. The agency recommends that all crew members, passengers and port workers be vaccinated. It is allowing cruise ships that prove at least 98 percent of its crew and 95 percent of its passengers are vaccinated to skip test cruises and proceed directly to revenue cruises. The thresholds allow for those with medical conditions preventing vaccination or religious objections, a spokesperson said.
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The CDC is waiting for cruise companies to submit agreements with local ports and health authorities before they can begin test cruises; revenue cruises can resume if the company meets the vaccination thresholds. As of Thursday, the CDC has not received any agreements, a spokesperson said.
During the Thursday call with Wall Street analysts, Del Rio said the company has been communicating with Gov. DeSantis’ office. At a press conference last month announcing his lawsuit against the CDC, DeSantis said he would object to cruise companies requiring vaccinations.
On Fox News’ Laura Ingraham show on April 29 shortly after legislators passed the restriction for businesses, schools and government, DeSantis said, “You have a right to participate in society without them asking you to divulge this type of health information like just to go to a movie, just to go to a ball game.”
Given the 90 days needed to get a ship operational, Del Rio said he doesn’t think U.S. cruises in July will be possible for the company’s brands. He criticized the CDC instructions for restarting cruises in the U.S. released on Wednesday, calling them “onerous.” He questioned whether an executive order that requires masks on public transportation, including cruise ships, is necessary if everyone is vaccinated.
“Even though everyone on board would be vaccinated, in between bites of your meal and in between sips of your beverage, you have to put on your mask, take off your mask,” he said. “So nobody should order soup because your mask might get sloppy. So that to me is just preposterous.”
In August, Norwegian Cruise Line plans to launch six-night cruises on its Norwegian Joy ship from Montego Bay, Jamaica, visiting its private beach in Belize; Roatán, Honduras; Cozumel, Mexico; and Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and six-night cruises on its Norwegian Gem ship from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, visiting Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Maarten and Antigua.
Cruises leaving from ports outside U.S. waters are not subject to its safety oversight.
The CDC has a Level 4 travel warning in place for cruise travel — the agency’s highest — citing the increased risk of getting COVID-19 on a cruise ship.