Florida governor says he will sue to restart US cruise ships

Florida’s governor said his state will sue the federal government and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an effort to allow cruise ships to resume, the latest clash between Republicans and the Biden administration over reopening the economy.

Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is up for re-election next year and has been mooted as a possible 2024 presidential candidate, said on Thursday that Florida had filed a lawsuit “demanding that our cruise ships be reopened immediately”.

“Today, Florida is fighting back,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Miami alongside Ashley Moody, Florida’s attorney-general. “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, and I think we have a good chance for success.”

The Florida lawsuit underscores the sharp divides among American policymakers over how to reopen the US economy amid rising Covid-19 vaccinations and a decline in coronavirus infections. Many Republican state governors have pressed ahead with reopening plans even as the federal government urges a more cautious approach.

Florida is among the states with the fewest coronavirus-related restrictions still in place. In neighbouring Georgia, Republican governor Brian Kemp on Thursday lifted all remaining pandemic restrictions, including legally enforced social distancing and bans on large gatherings.

Cruising is the only sector of the US economy that remains prohibited, even as most others have opened or continued to operate throughout the pandemic

Moody said Florida had filed the cruise lawsuit against the Biden administration, the CDC and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

“We are not going to sit back while an administrative agency decides to shut down an entire industry,” she added. “Sixty per cent of the nation’s cruises come out of Florida. Almost $8bn is injected into Florida’s economy because of this thriving industry.”

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, replied: “We don’t have a direct response to a lawsuit nor a comment on a specific legal action, but I will just reiterate that the CDC guidance is based on data and health and medical guidelines.”

The cruise industry has been at loggerheads with the CDC over its failure to issue further guidance following a “conditional sailing order” published in October, which said the agency would take a “phased approach” to the resumption of cruising, without giving any firm dates as to when that would be.

Last month the Cruise Lines International Association said: “The lack of any action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world. Cruising is the only sector of the US economy that remains prohibited, even as most others have opened or continued to operate throughout the pandemic.”

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The CDC subsequently issued guidance to outline a restart to cruising, including requirements for ships to make agreements with port authorities where they intend to dock, routine testing and a vaccination plan for crew. The CLIA called the plans “unduly burdensome, largely unworkable”.

Cruising is set to start in Europe from this month, with operators offering domestic itineraries such as trips around UK ports or the Canary Islands.

Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise line operator, said on Wednesday that it hoped to have all of its 90 ships running by the end of the year but would only have 12 per cent of the fleet in action over the summer. It takes two to three months to prepare a ship for a return to sailing.

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