Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Friday said cruise lines could sail from U.S. ports as early as midsummer if they can meet safety guidelines.
But those guidelines implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are practically unreachable, industry officials say, which prompted the state of Florida to file a lawsuit against the federal government to force cruising to return by July 4.
The CDC’s conditional no-sail order is keeping ships from sailing from U.S. ports until November.
“I certainly care a lot about seeing the cruise sector thrive,” Buttigieg said at The White House, adding – in cruise terminology – there are “gates” for operators “to get through” before they can get an “anchors aweigh” from the federal government.
The current order outlines detailed safety precautions that cruise operators have to take before conducting “simulation” cruises to see if those precautions are effective. Only after that can they begin to sail with passengers again.
It’s too much for an industry that has been sidelined for more than a year by the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is not reasonable. This is not rational,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference at PortMiami announcing the state’s lawsuit. “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.”
Carnival and Royal Caribbean have already said they will sail again out of ports that will allow them, such as in the Caribbean and in Europe, instead of waiting for final U.S. approval that might not come until pushing the winter holiday season.
“People are still going to go on cruises. You know what they’re going to do?” DeSantis said. “Instead of flying to Miami, spending money to stay in our hotels, spending money to eat in our restaurants before they get on the ship, they’re going to fly to the Bahamas, and they’re going to get on the ship from the Bahamas, and they’re going to spend the money in the Bahamas.”
Norwegian Cruise Lines CEO Frank Del Rio is the latest to make the threat, telling Fox Business the situation is unfair.
“It’s been 13 months. In the meantime, every other sector of the American business community has either not closed down or can recommence operations, certainly in the tourism, travel and hospitality space that’s true,” he said. “We believe we put forth an incredibly robust, comprehensive, science-backed, multi-layered plan which has as its cornerstone 100 percent vaccination for everybody on board.”
Del Rio said if NCL prefers to operate out of U.S. ports since half of all cruise passengers are from American. But if he can’t operate in U.S. waters, he will go elsewhere.
“The great thing about ships unlike buildings, casinos, hotels, resorts, we have engines, propellers and rudders. We can move our assets around wherever we need to operate,” he said. “If the CDC is steadfast in their position, we have to do what we have to do.”