Appeals Court Allowing CDC Restrictions on Cruise Ship Sailings

(Source: Adam Gonzales, 2020, Unsplash)

An appeals court in the U.S. 11th Circuit recently ruled that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) still may impose COVID-19 health and safety restrictions on the cruise industry, at least on a temporary basis.

Cruise lines’ efforts to comply with CDC restrictions have been challenged by the State of Florida. In an Emergency Order issued in April, Florida Governor DeSantis banned businesses, including cruise lines, from requiring proof of vaccination for service, with a potential penalty of $5,000 per customer.

In a past ruling in June, US District Judge Steven Merryday ruled against the CDC, finding that the CDC cannot lawfully limit cruise vessel operations for the purpose of controlling COVID-19. More recently, Judge Merryday issued a temporary injunction that would prevent the CDC from enforcing its “conditional sailing order,” or CSO, giving until July 18 to revise its restrictions.

The CDC appealed Merryday’s ruling, arguing that the CSO helps to ensure an orderly restart to business and mitigates potential for a resurgence of the virus. In a ruling issued Saturday, the Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay, blocking Judge Merryday’s injunction and permitting the CDC to continue enforcing its conditional sailing order. This latest ruling has permitted cruise ships to sail on commercial revenue voyages, but only if they satisfy one of two different certification options:

1.Ensure that 95 percent of the passengers and 98 percent of the crew on board are vaccinated.
2. Undertake a “trial cruise” test run, to demonstrate each vessel’s COVID-control protocols.

Some cruise lines have managed to continue with operations regardless -all passengers must disclose vaccination status, and those unvaccinated are subjected to extra fees, paperwork, testing, and onboard restrictions. Carnival Cruise Line’s first post-pandemic Florida-based voyage, which departed July 4th, managed to achieve a vaccinated passenger rate of about 95 percent in this way.

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