Norwegian cruises sues Florida over virus vaccination law

Published: July 14, 2021 11:01 AM EDT
Updated: July 14, 2021 12:06 PM EDT
FILE - In this May 4, 2020 file photo, Norwegian cruise ships are docked at Portsmouth Marine Terminal in Portsmouth, Va. Norwegian Cruise Lines has threatened to skip Florida ports because of the governor's order banning businesses from requiring that customers be vaccinated against COVID-19. The company says Gov. Ron DeSantis' order conflicts with guidelines from federal health authorities that would let cruise ships sail in U.S. waters if passengers and crew members are vaccinated. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot via AP, File)

Norwegian Cruise Line is challenging a new Florida law that prevents cruise companies from requiring passengers to show proof of vaccination against the COVID-19 virus.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Miami federal court, contends that the law jeopardizes safe operation of cruise ships by increasing risk of contracting the virus. Norwegian intends to restart cruises from Florida ports Aug. 15 with vaccinations required for all passengers.

Norwegian wants a judge to lift the ban by Aug. 6. The law imposes a fine of $5,000 each time a cruise line mandates that a passenger provide vaccination proof. Norwegian claims it violates federal law and several constitutional rights.

The company, officially known as Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings or NCLH, says it won’t be able to sail from Florida unless a judge acts to block the law.

“The result would be a devastating, unrecoverable loss for everyone – not only for NCLH’s business but also for tens of thousands of passengers, employees, and stakeholders who all benefit from NCLH resuming safe operations as planned,” the lawsuit says.

“The only way NCLH could maintain its protocols and operations as currently planned is by abandoning Florida altogether,” the lawsuit adds.

The lawsuit names as a defendant Florida’s surgeon general, Dr. Scott Rivkees, who is head of the state Health Department. Rivkees is an appointee of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose spokeswoman said the cruise line’s policy discriminates against children under 12 and others who are not vaccinated.

DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw noted in an email that Florida recently won a lawsuit challenging several cruise industry regulations imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Florida already fought and won its case so that Norwegian and all other cruise lines can invite and serve all Americans on its vessels,” Pushaw said. “But apparently Norwegian prefers the shackles of the CDC to the freedom offered by Florida.”

The CDC is appealing that earlier decision by a Tampa federal judge.

Other cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, have already begun voyages from Florida with a variety of policies regarding COVID-19 vaccination.