Florida Cruise Ship Staff Plea to Return to Work as Ron DeSantis Sues CDC

Cruise ship workers in the U.S. laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic have pleaded "it's time to get back to work," noting "we have had deaths...due to heartbreak" following the suspension of cruise operations in the country.

Several cruise industry staff members joined Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the Port of Miami on Thursday as he announced that the state is "filing a lawsuit against the federal government and the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) demanding that our cruise ships be reopened immediately."

Florida is "suing the Biden Administration in federal district court to overturn the unlawful 'Conditional Sailing Order'" issued by the CDC, the governor's office said in a statement on Thursday. Cruise sailings from the U.S. remain suspended under the latest CDC order.

According to a September 2020 report from the Federal Maritime Commission, during the first six months of the pandemic, losses in Florida due to the pausing of the cruise industry were estimated to be around "$3.2 billion in economic activity," the governor's office said on Thursday.

This includes a loss of 49,500 jobs, with more than 6,000 former cruise industry workers having filed for unemployment, according to the report.

Speaking at the Thursday press conference, port employer Monica Zapata said: "We have had deaths sadly. And I say sadly, because it wasn't due to COVID. It was quite literally due to heartbreak."

Monique Lawrence, who is a part of the cruise industry support staff at the Port of Miami, has struggled to support her extended family after being unemployed due to the pandemic. "I'm backed up in my home as far as like my rent and electricity and things of that nature," she told CBS Miami.

David Lee Bergert, another former cruise industry employee, has also been behind on his rent while struggling to keep his family afloat: "It's hard for us to find jobs, to be unemployed. Miami's Miami, it's time to get back to work," he told CBS Miami.

Newsweek has contacted the Cruise Lines International Association, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association for comment.

The cruise industry was halted last year following the CDC's "no sail order" for cruise ships issued on March 14, 2020. The federal health body said at the time it had "reason to believe that cruise ship travel may continue to introduce, transmit, or spread COVID-19."

On October 30 last year, the CDC released its "framework for conditional sailing order," outlining its phased approach for resuming cruises.

Passenger operations are suspended during the initial phases of the order, which could be in place until November 1 this year.

On April 2, the CDC released a new phase of the current order, providing technical guidelines for cruise ship operators in U.S. waters and local health authorities.

Nearly half a million workers and tens of thousands of businesses in the U.S. are "continuing to financially suffer" following the cruise industry shutdown, CLIA said in a statement on April 5, making a renewed call for the lifting of the CDC's latest order.

Since cruising was halted, Florida's seaports have recorded a loss in operating revenue of almost $300 million. This figure is projected to reach nearly $400 million by July, according to the aforementioned Federal Maritime Commission report.

Several cruise lines have canceled their U.S. cruises due to the industry shutdown, including Carnival Cruise Line and Disney who both announced cancellations of U.S. sailings through June on Tuesday.

Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, said the company "may have no choice" but to pull out of voyages from the U.S. altogether due to the CDC order blocking cruises in U.S. waters.

CLIA stated on Monday: "More sailings originating in the Caribbean and elsewhere are likely to be announced, effectively shutting American ports, closing thousands of American small businesses, and pushing an entire industry off-shore."

On Tuesday the CDC said it was working with the industry to allow cruises to resume by following the phased approach in its latest order.

The agency said in a statement: "This goal aligns with the desire for resumption of passenger operations in the United States expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers, hopefully by mid-summer."

This does not mean cruises will definitely restart in the summer. A CDC spokesperson, Caitlin Shockey, told USA Today it was "dependent on cruise lines working through the phases of the CSO [conditional sailing order]."

Royal Caribbean cruise ship Miami December 2020
Harmony of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, moored in the Port of Miami in Florida in December 2020 amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Daniel SLIM/AFP via Getty Images

The wider picture

Coronavirus has infected more than 134 million people, including more than 31 million in the U.S., since it was first reported in Wuhan, China.

More than 2.9 million people have died worldwide and more than 76.1 million have recovered as of Friday, according to Johns Hopkins.

The graphic below, produced by Statista, shows the total number of COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed and administered in the U.S.

Coronavirus vaccine US supply - Statista

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