Norwegian Cruise Wins Order Protecting Vaccines Requirement
(Bloomberg) -- Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. won a preliminary court injunction that allows it to require proof of Covid-19 vaccination as a condition of boarding its ships in Florida, despite a recent ban on such requirements under a new law promoted by Governor Ron DeSantis.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams in Miami on Sunday ruled that the law can’t be enforced while the legal fight is playing out. The cruise line sued the state in July, saying the statute violates federal law and may force it to cancel upcoming cruises.
The owner of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands will be able to operate with all passengers and crew fully vaccinated when sailing from Florida ports, it said in a statement on Sunday. The first Florida sailing is scheduled for Aug. 15 on Norwegian Gem, departing from Miami.
“We are pleased that Judge Williams saw the facts, the law and the science as we did and granted the company’s motion for preliminary injunction allowing us to operate cruises from Florida with 100% vaccinated guests and crew,” said Daniel S. Farkas, Norwegian Cruise Line’s general counsel.
Florida vowed to challenge the decision.
“We disagree with the judge’s legal reasoning and will be appealing to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “A prohibition on vaccine passports does not even implicate, let alone violate, anyone’s speech rights, and it furthers the substantial, local interest of preventing discrimination among customers based on private health information.”
The showdown pits DeSantis, a rising Republican star who champions resistance to coronavirus public-health measures, against an industry that has been crippled for 18 months. Earlier in the pandemic, a series of Covid-19 outbreaks at sea led to an outright U.S. suspension of sailing with passengers.
With operations mostly on hold all that time, the industry has had to raise billions of dollars in new financing just to muddle through with essentially zero revenue.
This year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control created two paths for the ships to return to U.S. ports, including proving their safety in so-called test voyages or ensuring that 95% of guests and crew were vaccinated. Opting for the latter, Norwegian pledged to go even further than the CDC requirement, saying that everyone on its ships would be vaccinated.
But Norwegian’s plans clashed with those of DeSantis, who pushed for a law that prohibited businesses in the state from making vaccines a condition of receiving service. Companies are still technically allowed to ask about vaccine status, though, and other cruise lines have successfully launched voyages from the Sunshine State since June with very high reported vaccination levels.
Even so, cruise ships have continued to see sporadic cases of Covid-19, which the companies say they have so far been able to contain through contact-tracing and other mitigation measures.
The case is Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. v. Rivkees, 21-cv-22492, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Miami).
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