The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is moving towards allowing the resumption of cruising from U.S. ports, but evidently not fast enough for Texas, which has joined Alaska and Florida in a lawsuit against the public health agency.
Texas says that the CDC’s ‘No Sail Order’ of March 2020, later followed by a ‘Conditional Sailing Order’ last October, has cost the state $1.2 billion in direct spending, the loss of 23,000 jobs, and $1.6 billion in lost wages.
In 2019, the Port of Galveston, the state’s primary cruise gateway, welcomed nearly 1.1 million cruise passengers as they set off for floating vacations in Mexico and the Caribbean. Prior to the pandemic, it accounted for 8 percent of all US cruise embarkations.
The filing came a day after the port hosted a rally in support of the restart of cruising, with guests including Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy. The Port of Galveston also vaccinated hundreds of Carnival crew members this week, in a joint initiative with the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), which is located less than a mile from the port.
In fact, the lawsuit cites the location of UTMB as one of the reasons why cruising should be allowed to resume from the port. One of the nation’s largest academic hospitals, UTMB, has created and implemented an infectious disease management plan.
The Texas intervention of support of the State of Florida versus the CDC states that the 14-month shutdown of the cruise industry has left many people and businesses in financial peril. It says hotels, restaurants, bars, retail stores, entertainment venues, attractions, and airlines all benefit from Texas’ cruise industry.
Florida launched the lawsuit in early April, with the goal of overturning the CDC’s ‘Conditional Sailing Order.’ It came in the wake of many cruise lines announcing they would resume sailing as early as May, from ports in Europe and the Caribbean where the CDC has no jurisdiction.
“People are still going to cruise if they want to,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said when announcing the lawsuit. “They’ll just cruise off other coasts.”
Days after Florida announced its legal action, Alaska filed an intervention supporting the lawsuit. The state is facing the bleak prospect of a second summer season without cruise ships, which are responsible for 60 percent of Alaska tourism.
“Alaskan families and small businesses need fast action to protect their ability to work and provide for their families,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy at the time.
On April 22, Florida upped the ante of the lawsuit by filing a motion in a district court in Tampa asking for an immediate injunction rescinding the CDC’s current orders. Florida is arguing that the lawsuit is “likely to succeed on the merits of the case,” and it is therefore entitled to the injunction due to “irreparable harm and hardships” created by the CDC’s actions.
Pressure applied by the lawsuit has been buttressed over the past few weeks by other efforts to influence the CDC. Cruise industry executives, trade organization Cruise Lines International Association, and groups including the American Society of Travel Advisors and the US Travel Association have all called for cruising to be allowed to resume with reasonable restrictions.
The industry contends that it can offer a safe vacation experience thanks to strong health protocols, robust testing, and contact tracing. In addition, several cruise lines have committed to only accepting fully vaccinated passengers on early sailings.
With much of the American economy either open or in the process of reopening — including most tourism venues — Carnival’s Duffy had a clear message at the Galveston rally.
“Today was yet another significant milestone in our efforts to resume cruising in the U.S.,” she stated. “We’ve said all along that we would like the cruise industry to be given equal treatment of other travel and hospitality companies, and this event sent a strong and unified message that we need to start sailing again.”