Judge sides with Florida, soon lifting CDC no sail order on cruises

Preliminary injunction makes no-sail order a recommendation beginning July 18

Cruises on verge of returning
Cruises on verge of returning

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A federal judge in Tampa granted Florida’s motion for a preliminary injunction Friday against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no sail order that has shut down the cruise industry for more than a year due to the COVID-9 pandemic.

The CDC issued a series of no-sail orders in early 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Cruise lines are beginning to test sailing under rules from the CDC.

Celebrity Cruises will sail out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale at the end of June, according to a tweet by the cruise line.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, filed the lawsuit in April challenging restrictions that idled the industry after outbreaks aboard ships early in the pandemic in 2020.

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Florida and the CDC were ordered to enter mediation but those negotiations failed last week after reaching an impasse, according to court filings.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday granted the preliminary injunction in a 124-page ruling.

“This order finds that Florida is highly likely to prevail on the merits of the claim that CDC’s conditional sailing order and the implementing orders exceed the authority delegated to the CDC,” Merryday wrote.

Merryday delayed the effect of his order until just after midnight on July 18, after that the CDC no-sail order will be a “recommendation” or “guideline,” according to court documents.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the hardworking Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry. The federal government does not, nor should it ever, have the authority to single out and lock down an entire industry indefinitely,” Moody said in a statement. “I am excited to see the cruise industry get sailing again, and proud to stand with Governor Ron DeSantis against illegal federal overreach and draconian lockdown measures.”

The CDC can appeal and has until July 2 to propose a narrower injunction permitting cruise ships to sail. If the CDC responds, Florida has seven days to respond to its proposal and the parties will resume mediation.

“The CDC has been wrong all along, and they knew it,” DeSantis said in a statement. “The CDC and the Biden Administration concocted a plan to sink the cruise industry, hiding behind bureaucratic delay and lawsuits. Today, we are securing this victory for Florida families, for the cruise industry, and for every state that wants to preserve its rights in the face of unprecedented federal overreach.”

Laziza Lambert, spokeswoman for the Cruise Lines International Association, said the trade group was reviewing the ruling and what it means for resuming cruises from U.S. ports. Carnival Corp. said it too was reviewing the decision.

“The health and safety of cruise passengers, crew and the communities we visit remains the top priority for CLIA cruise line members, and cruise ships are well on their way to offering the traveling public a high level of COVID-19 mitigation,” Lambert said in a statement.

Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean have been gearing up to return to sailing under the CDC’s four-part framework. Merryday’s decision means the CDC can’t enforce those rules for Florida-based ships and that they would merely be considered nonbinding recommendations or guidelines.

As far as the ban on vaccine passports by DeSantis, cruisel ines like Royal Carribean have found a way around that.

The cruise line said passengers 16 and up who can’t prove their vaccine status will have to pay $136 to get a COVID test, and those who refuse will get their money back.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About the Authors:

Emilee is a digital journalist for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com, where she writes about space and Central Florida news. Emilee hosts the Edward R. Murrow Award-winning podcast Space Curious. Previously, she was a space writer and web editor for the Orlando Sentinel and a web producer at the Naples Daily News.

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.