One of the world's largest cruise lines is fighting to end Florida's vaccine passport ban.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. – parent company to Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises – is suing Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees over the state’s law prohibiting "vaccine passports," a term referring to proof of vaccination.
The company claims the ban violates federal law and said the lawsuit is a “last resort” to make sure it can resume cruising "safely and soundly."
The Florida state law banning vaccine passports went into effect on July 1 and is outlined in an executive order from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
How does Florida's vaccine passport ban affect cruise lines?
The vaccine passport ban prohibits companies like NCL Holdings from checking the vaccination status of passengers boarding at Florida ports.
The law contradicts rules set out by the CDC, which said cruise lines offering cruises on ships with paying passengers would need 95% of crew and 95% of passengers be fully vaccinated to board. Simulated cruises filled with volunteer nonpaying passengers do not have the same mandate.
NCL Holdings' lawsuit claims the Florida law places the company in an “impossible dilemma:" either on the wrong side of Flordia state law or “the wrong side of health and safety.”
The company had announced in April that it would require all passengers and crew on its ships to be "100% vaccinated" two weeks before boarding.
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What does Florida have to say about this?
Christina Pushaw, press secretary for DeSantis' office, called the lawsuit “meritless,” and said the company faces a $5,000 fine each time they ask to check a passenger’s vaccination status.
“Norwegian Cruise Line (Holdings) has made the disappointing and unlawful choice to join the CDC in discriminating against children and other individuals who cannot be vaccinated or who have opted not to be vaccinated for reasons of health, religion, or conscience,” Pushaw said via email. “This Administration will not tolerate such widespread discrimination.”
The Florida Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.
Why is NCL Holdings fighting this law?
NCL Holdings paused global operations for more than 16 months due to the pandemic. The company described the hiatus as "debilitating" in a Tuesday statement but said it did not want to rush back to business without the additional safeguard of checking vaccination statuses.
"Despite the ongoing global pandemic and the accelerating spread of the Delta variant, Florida continues to prohibit us from requiring vaccine documentation," the company statement reads. "The swift deployment of vaccines has been the primary vehicle for people to safely get back to their everyday lives while containing the spread of the virus."
The company's lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court against the Southern District of Florida, described Florida's vaccine passport ban as “one anomalous, misguided intrusion (that) threatens to spoil (NCL Holdings’) careful planning and force it to cancel or hobble upcoming cruises."
NCL Holdingsargues that the ban violates the First Amendment by blocking communications between businesses and their customers and "inexplicably precludes this business from protecting the health and safety of its employees and customers against the extraordinary backdrop of a deadly pandemic."
The cruise line is asking the court to act before Aug. 15, when it is scheduled to restart operations from Florida ports.
The lawsuit comes after multiple cruise lines have had passengers or crew members test positive for COVID while on board.
Royal Caribbean International postponed the inaugural sailings of its newest cruise ship last month after eight crew members received positive coronavirus test results during routine testing. And two passengers who shared a room on Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Millennium ship, which was billed as carrying "fully vaccinated crew and guests," tested positive for COVID-19 last month.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings files lawsuit over vaccine passport ban