Norwegian Cruise Line Balks at Florida Banning Businesses from Requiring COVID Vaccines

Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line spoke out against a new law signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that may disrupt operations in the state.

The order that bans businesses from requiring customers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine conflicts with federal health guidelines that would allow cruise ships to sail in U.S. waters if almost all passengers and crew members are vaccinated, the Associated Press reported.

"It is a classic state-versus-federal-government issue," Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Frank Del Rio said Thursday, adding that the company will go to other states or the Caribbean if ships cannot operate in Florida because of the new law. "Lawyers believe that federal law applies and not state law, but I'm not a lawyer. And we hope that this doesn't become a legal football or a political football."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Cruise Line is threatening to skip Florida ports because of Governor Ron DeSantis' order banning businesses from requiring that customers be vaccinated against COVID-19. Above, Norwegian Cruise Line ships are docked at Portsmouth Marine Terminal in Portsmouth, Virginia, on May 4, 2020. Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot via AP

Del Rio said the company is still discussing the matter with DeSantis' office.

Last month, DeSantis signed an order banning businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination and prohibiting state agencies from issuing so-called vaccine passports that document COVID-19 vaccinations and test results. This week, he signed legislation that includes the provision about businesses and gives him power to overrule local measures related to the pandemic, such as mask mandates.

DeSantis said the order and the legislation were matters of preserving individual freedom and privacy. On Friday, the governor's office did not immediately respond to the Norwegian Cruise Line CEO's comments.

Norwegian aims to have all passengers and crew vaccinated. Guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would let ships skip practice voyages and begin trips with paying customers if 98% of the crew and 95% of passengers are vaccinated and ships take other measures to limit the risk of transmitting the virus that causes COVID-19.

Cruise lines have been barred from sailing in U.S. waters or stopping at U.S. ports since March 2020, early in the pandemic. Some are slowly resuming trips in other countries and requiring that all passengers on those cruises be vaccinated.

The companies are pushing the CDC to let them return the U.S. this summer, although none of the major companies—Norwegian, Royal Caribbean Group and Carnival Corp.—have announced any U.S. cruises.

Del Rio said the path to resuming U.S. cruises is "a bit rockier and a bit steeper" than expected, and he said a mid-summer restart "could be in jeopardy."

Norwegian said after the market closed Thursday that it lost $1.37 billion in the first quarter after losing $4 billion last year. The company said, however, that bookings have picked up, raising hopes for a recovery in early 2022.

Its shares rose about 2% in Friday afternoon trading.

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Ron DeSantis Cruise Ships
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to the media about the cruise industry during a press conference at Port Miami on April 8, 2021, in Miami, Florida. The governor announced that the state is suing the federal government to allow cruises to resume in Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images