(8:57 a.m. EDT) -- As of June 1, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved health and safety agreements covering 22 vessels at five ports of call, and is reviewing agreements for six more ships.
Two ships that will sail with fully vaccinated passengers and crew have received conditional sailing certificates, the agency said in a court filing Wednesday, a day after a second day of court-ordered mediation in Florida's lawsuit against the agency.
Celebrity Edge, has received approval to begin sailing from Fort Lauderdale on June 26. The second ship has not been revealed.
The CDC said it has also approved test cruises for four ships, with six pending. Under the agencies Conditional Sailing Order, test cruises are a requirement for resuming operations on ships that will not meet a threshold of 95 percent fully vaccinated passengers and crew.
The ships with test cruises that have been made public are Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, in Miami June 20-22; Disney Cruise Line's Disney Dream, in Port Canaveral, on June 29-July 1, and Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line's Grand Classica, departing June 25 for a two-night round-trip cruise from the Port of Palm Beach to Grand Bahama Island.
Besides the three ports listed above, the other ports that have completed agreements with cruise lines to resume service include Port Everglades and Port of Galveston. The port agreements are the first step for the lines, coming before test cruises and resumption of service.
Carnival has said that Carnival Vista is working to resume service from the Port of Galveston on July 3, but no test cruise information has been released.
The disclosures came as attorneys for the federal government sought to add additional arguments on why a U.S. District Court judge in Tampa should not issue a preliminary injunction, as sought by Florida, vacating the agency’s CSO which was issued last October, as a follow-up to a No Sail Order.
The state is seeking an injunction against the CDC that would allow cruises to begin immediately; the CDC's argument is that they are going through the necessary steps with the lines to return to sailing safely. Large cruise ships have not sailed from the U.S. since March 2020.
The state argued that in establishing the Conditional Sailing Order, the CDC overstepped its legal authority.
Alaska Cruises Potentially Affected
The federal attorneys wrote in their Wednesday filing that progress has been made on a summer cruise restart.
They also argue that an injunction against the CDC’s order could wipe out plans for an Alaska cruise season. In approving the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act last month, the U.S. Congress also ratified the CSO, the federal attorneys says. The Alaska act allows for an Alaska cruise season this summer, but with ships operating under the regulations in the CSO.
No CSO, no season, the CDC says.
"In short, cruising is set to resume as planned, and Florida cannot establish an irreparable injury that would occur in the absence of an injunction," the federal attorneys write. They say an injunction would "cast considerable doubt on public confidence in the industry,” and “otherwise undermine the carefully laid plans for safe resumption of passengers operations."
Attorneys representing Florida responded to CDC’s supplemental brief on the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA) on Thursday, while also expressing concern that additional arguments will further delay a ruling on its request for a preliminary injunction against the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order.
“With each passing day that cruises—a singled-out industry—cannot operate, Florida suffers irreparable harm. As Florida’s cruise lines and ports address the CDC’s constantly changing labyrinth of requirements for safety plans and simulations, and businesses and employees suffer, time is of the essence,” the state attorneys write.
The attorneys argue the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act is proof the CDC lacks legal authority, since it required congressional approval. They also write that the CDC “is moving the goalposts every day and making it impossible for cruise ships to resume sailing.”
Alaska, which along with Texas joined the Florida case, responded with its own argument.
“The CDC has been rapidly changing its restrictions and guidance over the past few weeks, apparently in direct response to this litigation,” attorneys representing Alaska argue. “The nature of those restrictions and guidance may affect the number of cruise ships and passengers that visit Alaska in 2021, which directly impacts the revenues of the State of Alaska and many of its port communities, and indirectly affects the overall economic health of the State and its citizens.”
DeSantis' Vaccine Stance Threatens Restart
In a related skirmish over who has jurisdiction over cruise line policies, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been squaring off with the lines regarding a law he signed last month that bars vaccine passports in the state.
Cruise lines have been talking with DeSantis on a workaround to the law, which bars businesses from asking customers if they have been vaccinated – and imposes fines of $5,000 for each violation.
If a resolution isn't found, the restart of Celebrity Edge and other ships in Florida could be threatened.
"I would say that we are super-close but we will not come out with our total protocols and return to service until we get that statement from the governor," Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales for Celebrity Cruises, told travel agents last week.
DeSantis has so far stuck to a promise to enforce the law, and continues to cite his position that the CDC has no authority to govern cruise line policies.