TAMPA, Fla. - As cruise industry leaders await a court decision regarding Florida's lawsuit against the CDC over the agency's 'no-sail' order, there is some indication that a compromise may be in sight when it comes to vaccine requirements aboard ships.
Industry insiders are reporting that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is close to signing off on a bargain that would recognize cruise ships at port as being in international waters, meaning they would not be subject to the state's newly signed vaccine passport ban if they require proof of vaccinations after passengers come aboard.
Forbes magazine obtained a recording of an industry executive explaining how they could still require guests to show vaccine passports despite the state forbidding it. According to Forbes, a senior VP at Celebrity Cruises is recorded saying, "We're ironing out a statement that will articulate how cruising will be different" from other Florida businesses and "as soon as you pass through (a terminal) and step on the ship, you’re no longer considered to be local. You’re now in international waters."
As FOX 13 political editor Craig Patrick pointed out, the accuracy of this statement is questionable at best, as state maps show Florida's ports are considered state waters.
The news of a possible exemption for ships follows a May 20th letter from Florida's health department to the cruise lines saying, "nothing in state law stands in the way of cruise ship operators." The letter from the governor’s top health official also says the department has limited statutory authority with respect to cruises.
This interpretation, combined with any interpretation that the state has no authority over ships docked at state ports, could give the cruise lines the wiggle room they're seeking to check vaccine cards -- if the governor got along with it.
Despite the legislation, for upcoming paid voyages, the Royal Caribbean website currently states passengers ages 16 and up must be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before sailing. Then, starting in August, the requirement extends to passengers 12 and older.
Celebrity Cruises is posting the same vaccine requirements. Norwegian and others are also requiring all guests and crew to get vaccinated.
In May, Norwegian said if Florida does not back down, it could simply re-route its ships to ports in other states but is currently still planning to port in Florida.
A consumer survey conducted over the Memorial Day weekend finds that 80%of likely cruisers would prefer to sail with a vaccine requirement in place. As for the state's lawsuit against the CDC, the case remains in mediation, which was set to conclude on June 1 but is going longer than expected. An update is likely in the coming days.