NEW: Florida sues CDC, Biden administration about cruise ban

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Carnival Cruise Line cancels voyages through Sept. 30

Industry on hold again following desperate appeal to Atlanta-based health agency

The state of Florida has filed a lawsuit against the federal government to demand cruise ships be allowed to start sailing immediately, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday.

DeSantis said the no-sail order is outdated and hurts the state as the industry generates billions for the economy and employs tens of thousands of Floridians.

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“We don’t believe the federal government has the right to mothball a major industry for over a year based on very little evidence and very little data,” the Republican governor said at a news conference at the Port of Miami.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines last week for companies on how to respond in the event of COVID-19 cases but has so far not lifted its no-sail order.

The CDC shut down sailing last March when several coronavirus outbreaks were tied to ships worldwide, prompting ports to reject docking plans and leaving some passengers and crew members to navigate for an extended time.

Florida is the nation’s cruise capital with three of the world’s busiest ports: Miami, Port Canaveral near Kennedy Space Center, and Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale. The industry generates billions for the state’s economy as millions of people typically cruise from one of Florida’s ports each year.

DeSantis has maintained the ban disproportionally impacts Florida and has said that cruising has resumed in much of the world, forcing Americans to fly to other ports in the nearby Bahamas. Industry leaders say there have been no new outbreaks tied to their ships.

“People are going to cruise one way or another. The question is are we going to do it out of Florida, which is the number one place to do it in the world, or are they going to be doing it out of the Bahamas or other locations?” DeSantis said.

The CDC has rejected a request by the cruise industry to immediately lift a conditional no-sail order that would have allowed a phased resumption of business in U.S. waters by July, months ahead of a previously announced November return date.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to keep ships docked despite the fact that other companies around the world have resumed sailings with extensive health safety measures in place.

“Returning to passenger cruising is a phased approach to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19,” said Caitlin Shockey, spokesperson for the CDC, according to reports. “Details for the next phase of the CSO are currently under interagency review.”

The cruise lines have said they were prepared for the CDC to implement further health modifications in the meantime but now accuse the agency of dragging its feet, adding that the early-July timeframe they asked for was in line with President Joe Biden’s forecast for when the United States will be “closer to normal.”

“The lack of any action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world,” the cruise line association said in a statement Wednesday.

“Returning to passenger cruising is a phased approach to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. Details for the next phase of the CSO are currently under interagency review."

- Caitlin Shockey, spokesperson for the CDC

“Cruise lines should be treated the same as other travel, tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors,” said Kelly Craighead, CLIA’s president and CEO.

The CDC’s “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order” was meant to help the cruise industry implement safety measures that would allow operations to resume. But cruise liners say the health agency hasn’t issued additional guidance as it promised it would.

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“Over the past eight months, a highly controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific — with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets,” Craighead said. “These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19. Additional sailings are planned in the Mediterranean and Caribbean later this spring and summer.”

All three major cruise lines that operate in the U.S. ― Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian ― have continued to extend the shutdown month to month while the CDC keeps a no-sail order in place within U.S. waters.

Each company had hoped for a return to the seas as soon as this month, but they were forced to delay as the coronavirus pandemic began surging again around the world late last year.

In order for cruises to ultimately return to the sea, the CDC is requiring the companies to come up with their own plans to deal with COVID-19 with minimal help from federal, state and local governments.

The plans must be detailed and specific, and will then be subject to review and approval by the CDC and the U.S. Coast Guard.