(3:55 p.m. EDT) -- In a move that could permanently alter many Caribbean itineraries, the city of Key West will vote on a referendum that includes limiting the size of cruise ships that stop in the port during the November election.
The measure, put forward by a local group called the Key West Committee For Safer Cleaner Ships, has three amendments. One calls for limiting the number of people disembarking from cruise ships to a total of 1,500 per day, while another outright bans ships with a capacity of more than 1,300 people from disembarking. The third would give priority to cruise lines with the best environmental and health records.
The group received enough signatures during a petition drive to get the measure on the November ballot, according to the Florida Keys News.
If the measures pass, it will be a huge blow for mainstream cruise lines, almost all of which schedule port calls in Key West on both Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. Key West currently has three cruise berths that are routinely filled on busy days, with ships docking at the Mallory Square, Pier B (immediately adjacent to Mallory Square), and the Navy Mole further out of town
Cruise passengers love Key West stops, not only for the many bars and restaurants along Duval Street, but for the Mallory Square vendors and historic sites such as the Hemingway House, with their polydactyl feline residents, and Harry S. Truman's "Little White House."
Overtourism Stand, But Huge Economic Impact
The move is certainly not the first action or attempt by a port to limit the size and scope of cruise calls. Before COVID-19, overtourism had been a hot-button issue in communities worldwide, from Venice to Barcelona, with cruise ships cited as part of the problem.
Earlier this summer, Royal Caribbean said that it would move summer 2021 Venice port calls to Ravenna instead. More recently, Bar Harbor in Maine banned all cruise calls for the rest of 2020, on a temporary basis, to prevent ships from calling during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
If they pass, the Key West limitations on cruise vessels would be permanent, regardless if COVID-19 is still a factor.
The measures could have a significant effect on the tourist-oriented Key West economy to the tune of a $90 million impact on revenue.
2019 figures from the Greater Key West Chamber of the Commerce note that 906,907 cruise passengers disembarked in Key West, with per-passenger spending estimated at $70.13 -- $63,601,387 total (spending numbers were adjusted for inflation from 2006 figures).
Income from crew members, who often see Key West as their last American stop before reaching islands where consumer goods are more expensive, is estimated at $11,796,432, based on 151,918 disembarkations at per-person spending of $77.65. The remaining $15.5 million comes from fees paid to the city, the port, the pilots and the Navy.
In 2019, 417 cruise ships stopped in Key West, the Chamber presentation said. Of those, only 22 are small ships that would fall under the permissible criteria put forth with the referendum.
A countersuit to keep the measure off the ballot has been filed in federal court by the Key West Bar Pilots Association.
The suit notes that cruising has been part of the Key West economy since 1969, and that the loss of the ships "would be a death-knell to the 200-year history of Pilots serving the Port of Key West and functionally sever Key West's citizens from a working maritime heritage and future."
"The four highly-trained harbor pilots that make up the Pilots have spent significant sums and time on their training, and are weathering the Covid-19 storm as best they can," the suit said. "However, the Pilots are suffering continuing losses and pecuniary harm given the uncertainty over the Initiatives that will last at least through November 3, 2020."
The suit also points out that by limiting the size of the ships that stop in Key West, the initiative would effectively kill the cruise industry in the city, as smaller ships are generally older and might not meet the environmental constraints of the third measure.
The suit also asserts that the initiatives need to be thrown out on several jurisdiction counts, one being that the federal government maintains governance over maritime issues that local municipalities cannot override.
Another argument states that Key West port development has been part of the Florida and Monroe county comprehensive plans, which referendums cannot supersede.
Cruise Critic will update this story as more information becomes available.