US appeal court overturns Florida suspension of CDC Cruise Ship Rules

An ongoing dispute between states’ rights and federal power in which cruise ships are a pawn took a step further late on Saturday July 17th after a US Appeals Court ruled, by two-to-one, to put on hold a lower-court decision which said that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could not enforce its coronavirus cruise ship rules in the state of Florida.

In June US District Judge Steven Merryday said that Florida state was “highly likely” to be able to show that the CDC exceeded its authority in adopting rules governing the resumption of cruise ship sailing.

The 11th Circuit panel issued its order overruling the lower court only 10 minutes before Judge Merryday’s decision would have come into effect. That ruling would have made the CDC rules a non-binding recommendation, rather than mandatory.

Florida state law expressly prohibits cruise lines from requiring documentation of Covid-19 vaccines.

In May, after much pressure from stakeholders in the US cruise industry, which has been in suspended animation since March 2020, the CDC began to approve some cruise operations. It created the concept of a conditional sail order (CSO), meaning that cruise lines that ensured at least 95% of passengers and nearly all crew were vaccinated could bypass the requirement for simulated “test” voyages.

The Justice Department asserted last week in a filing with the appeals court that there was “no basis to lift the Covid-19 health and safety protocols that were developed by (CDC) in collaboration with the cruise ship industry.”

Republican Governor of Florida Rob DeSantis had argued that the CDC rules disregarded “the freedom of Floridians to make decisions for their families”.

Florida said in April that its ports had suffered a decline in operating revenue of almost $300m since March last year.