Florida can’t force cruises to restart during pandemic, feds argue in court

South Florida Sun Sentinel

May 12, 2021 5:03 PM

Carnival Cruise Line's Sunrise and Vista ships along with the MSC Meraviglia are shown docked at PortMiami in February.

Carnival Cruise Line’s Sunrise and Vista ships along with the MSC Meraviglia are shown docked at PortMiami in February. (Susan Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

The U.S. government says the state of Florida has no legal right to force the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to reopen the cruise line business at the nation’s seaports.

Lawyers representing the state and federal government squared off before U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday in Tampa on Wednesday after Florida sued the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services, claiming an agency program for cruise lines to resume sailings is “unlawful,” taking too long and creating widespread economic harm.

In court papers, Florida alleges the CDC overstepped its authority to keep the cruise lines closed until they meet the agency’s conditional safe sailing requirements.

As part of the process, for example, companies operating ships in and out of U.S. ports have been testing their crew members each week for COVID-19 and reporting the results to the federal agency.

In court, the state of Florida alleges that although Congress granted the CDC the authority to remove health hazards in public places, there is nothing in the law that allows the agency to arbitrarily shut down the cruise lines.

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The state’s lawyers assert that public health conditions have changed since the CDC restart plan was imposed last October, with large segments of the general population becoming fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The state also noted that cruising has safely resumed in Asia and Europe, and the resumptions thus far have been a “resounding success.”

But in their court filings, U.S. government lawyers countered that Florida has no standing to sue and that the CDC, not the state, has the power to regulate cruise ships sailing from American ports.

The state, the federal response adds, “sat on its supposed rights for well over a year” after the coronavirus pandemic struck and did nothing to help reactivate the ships. Overall, the CDC acted “lawfully and reasonably” when it set up the rules the companies must follow to resume cruising, the government said.

As for any losses the state economy may have absorbed over business lost to idled cruise lines, the threat of a resurgence of COVID-19 outbreaks aboard ships far outweighs any damages the state might have suffered, federal lawyers wrote.

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