Following reports from Florida Tuesday afternoon that Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has filed a lawsuit against the Florida Surgeon General over the state’s ban on vaccine passports, the company issued a statement confirming its legal action against the state.
“It gives us no pleasure to be pursuing this lawsuit, which was our last resort. Nothing takes priority over the health and safety of our guest, crew and the communities we visit; our commitment to them is paramount,” the statement read.
“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.
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.
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.”
The statement adds it has asked the courts to, “invalidate Florida’s prohibition and to grant us a preliminary injunction to allow our Company to resume sailing with stringent health and safety protocols to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, further spread of COVID-19.”
And it made clear that Florida was an international outlier in the safe resumption of cruising. “Our policy of 100% vaccination of guests and crew is consistent and in place without issue in every port we sail from around the world except for Florida.”
One of the company’s cruise lines, NCL, is scheduled to resume sailing from a Florida homeport on 15AUG, giving Norwegian only a month to get permission to require proof of vaccination from its guests.
Bloomberg Law reported Tuesday that NCLH in its lawsuit said that Florida’s prohibition against businesses asking customers for vaccine documentation is an “intrusion,” one that may force Norwegian’s cruise lines including NCL, Regent and Oceania, to cancel upcoming cruises, “inflicting irreparable harm of vast dimensions.”
Norwegian Cruise Line Holding’s Chairman/CEO Frank Del Rio has been vocally opposed to Florida’s own legal interference in the industry’s return to cruising.
The biggest cruise state in the U.S. sued the CDC over the restrictions it placed on cruising in its Conditional Sail Order. While ostensibly in support of the resumption of cruising, Florida’s lawsuit actually makes it harder for cruise lines to cruise again.
The CDC’s CSO was modified earlier this year to permit cruise lines sailing with 95 per cent vaccinated guests exemptions from onerous restrictions that would impact the cruise guest experience and make operations much more difficult for cruise lines.
In addition, as Open Jaw has reported, many cruise lines report that their returning cruise guests want to be sailing on ships knowing their fellow guests are vaccinated.
Del Rio is quoted as saying NCLH’s cruise lines could “move its ships elsewhere,” in response to any ban on asking for vaccine certificates from guests.
"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 a ship that otherwise would have gone to Florida," he told an earnings call in May.
Del Rio had previously been critical of the CDC’s slow pace to provide guidance to cruise lines to resume operations.
But this latest move turns the tables on Florida, and apparently shows at least one of the major cruise companies is coming out firmly on the side of the CDC’s vision of the return to cruising - one that includes vaccinations.