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DeSantis, Moody Push To Lift Federal Cruise Restrictions

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody says the orders are operating under "outdated medical information."

While CDC guidelines have shut down the industry, cruises are being operated around the globe with protocols and no new coronavirus outbreaks tied to a ship, the governor says.

Florida is considering legal avenues to challenge federal guidelines that keep passenger cruise ships from sailing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as efforts continue to convince the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lift restrictions.

Attorney General Ashley Moody said Friday during an event with Gov. Ron DeSantis and cruise industry officials at Port Canaveral that she was looking at ways to “push back” against a directive by the federal agency that essentially keeps the cruise industry from operating.

“What is obviously clear is that the orders that we're operating under are based on outdated medical information, and they’re untimely,” Moody said.

Moody said she agreed with the initial approach by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in issuing a “no sail” order in March 2020, based upon information at the time.

“I think everyone agreed, (that was) probably the smartest thing to do,” Moody said. “But since that time, we've moved on. And even though that has been lifted, it really hasn't. Because they have put in place a new conditional order to sail, which hasn't allowed you to do anything. So, we are still effectively in a lockdown.”

DeSantis, who since last summer called for a return of the cruise industry to help the state’s vital tourism industry, said he would like to see ships operating again by June.

“We're willing to work with them. We want to work with them. We want everyone to be able to get them to get to ‘yes,’” DeSantis said. “But we obviously are going to keep our options open for the future.”

DeSantis said cruises are being operated safely around the globe with restrictions and protocols and no new coronavirus outbreaks have been tied to a ship.

Royal Caribbean said its cruises from the Bahamas will sail with vaccinated crew, will be available to fully vaccinated adults and children with negative test results.

“It seems like the rationale for these continued lockdowns on the cruise industry is not to prevent hospital overrun, but to have zero cases. That's not possible, and you end up destroying people's lives trying to achieve it,” DeSantis said.

Responding to cruise industry officials on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued several statements that maintained the need for criteria to be met before Nov. 1.

“Returning to passenger cruising is a phased approach to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19,” agency spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey said. “Details for the next phase of the CSO (conditional sail order) are currently under interagency review.”

The Florida Ports Council said Friday it was disappointed by the CDC response.

“While other modes of passenger travel, such as air, rail and even passenger ferries, have been able to resume operations using identified federal COVID-19 protocols, the cruise passenger travel industry has not been provided guidelines to even begin the implementation of resumption,” the council said in a news release.

PortMiami, Port Canaveral, and Port Everglades are three of the top cruise ports in the world, with large passenger ships also operating out of the Port of Tampa Bay, the Port of Palm Beach and JaxPort.

The cruise industry drew heavy attention in the early stages of the pandemic as outbreaks occurred on ships in various parts of the world.

Since the end of October, the industry has been under a conditional sail order that outlines the phased approach to resuming operations in U.S. waters, starting with testing and additional safeguards for crew members.

Subsequent phases include simulated voyages and, eventually, passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risks.

Rick Sasso, president and chief executive officer of MSC Cruises, the fourth-largest cruise company in the world, told DeSantis the industry needs certainty on when it can start the process of bringing people back to work.

“There are things going on that are kind of frustrating, because we do need a date certain … we need to know when, because it will take time for us to engage, to get things back in order,” Sasso said.

The Florida Ports Council estimated the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the cruise industry in Florida, along with a slowdown in cargo traffic, at 169,000 Florida jobs and $23 billion in economic loss.

As part of his spending request for Florida’s share of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, DeSantis has suggested the Legislature allocate $260 million to the state’s ports.

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Jim Turner - News Service of Florida