Norwegian Wins, But Florida Appeals Cruise Battle Over Proof of Vaccination

Norwegian NCL Alaska

Florida has now appealed a Sunday night ruling by a federal judge in Miami granting Norweigan Cruise Line Holdings the right to require full vaccination for pax to board the company’s cruises.

In a statement, the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent and Oceania said,“This order will now allow the Company to operate in the safest way possible with 100% vaccination of all guests and crew when sailing from Florida ports. Nothing takes priority over the health and safety of the Company’s guests, crew and the communities visited and its commitment to them is paramount.”

The legal battle is a second front of a fight between Governor Ron DeSantis’ Florida and the CDC’s health regulations of the cruise industry.

DeSantis had previously signed a bill in MAY that banned businesses from requiring customers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine. Had Sunday’s injunction not occurred, Norwegian could have faced a fine of $5,000 from the state of Florida for each violation had it enforced proof of vaccination to sail.

As Open Jaw reported, when Florida and the CDC have also faced off in court, there have been wins on both sides. They wait on the latest court decision, which could come in SEP.

SEP is too late for NCLH. NCL’s first sailing out of Florida is scheduled for this weekend: 15AUG.

The company, which has been vocal in its defense of fully vaccinated cruises and its right to require proof, sought the court’s protection of its vaccination policies. And on Sunday, a judge agreed with the cruise company.

US District Judge Kathleen Williams noted in her decision that “the Defendant (Florida) fails to provide a valid evidentiary, factual, or legal predicate.”

“Amid myriad, rapidly-changing requirements regarding quarantining and testing, there is one constant that facilitates cruise line customers’ access to advertised ports of call: documentary proof of vaccination will expedite passengers’ entry into virtually every single country and port where Plaintiffs intend to sail.”

“We are pleased that Judge Williams saw the facts, the law and the science as we did and granted the Company’s motion for preliminary injunction allowing us to operate cruises from Florida with 100% vaccinated guests and crew,” said Daniel S. Farkas, executive vice president and general counsel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.

“While litigation is a strategic tool of last resort, our Company has fought to do what we believe is right and in the best interest of the welfare of our guests, crew and communities we visit in an effort to do our part as responsible corporate citizens to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, further spread of COVID-19 as we gradually relaunch our vessels.”

Although the wording is definitive, the injunction might not be the end of this particular saga. According to Politico, Peter Patterson, the representative for the state and for the state’s Surgeon General, hinted that Florida might take the case to the Supreme Court during a hearing on Friday.

In fact, on Monday morning, the Florida Governor's office announced they would be challenging this injunction.

"We disagree with the judge's legal reasoning and will be appealing to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals," a spokeswoman said. "A prohibition on vaccine passports does not even implicate, let alone violate, anyone's speech rights, and it furthers the substantial, local interest of preventing discrimination among customers based on private health information."

The company has been confident the decision was going to go its way. Last Friday they held a ‘Great Cruise Comeback’ Panel ahead of the 07AUG restart of sailing in U.S. waters. Its newest ship, the Norweigan Encore, embarked Saturday on an Alaska cruise from Seattle.

“We believe that around the world, the safest way to cruise is to have everyone 100 per cent vaccinated, and have everyone tested at the pier before they go on board,” said Frank Del Rio, the president and CEO of NCLH during the panel discussion.

“And as I said, this morning at our earnings call, nothing will get in the way of that. Florida was an outlier.”

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