Miami (AFP) – United States cruise companies are fighting to resume voyages from Florida and Texas ports in July as the pandemic wanes, but for vaccinated passengers only. However both states and governors won't let them demand proof of inoculation.
So far, neither side has blinked, even as two guests on one of the first cruise ships to sail from North America since the COVID-19 pandemic tested positive this week.
Florida is the cruise capital of the world, with billions of dollars of revenue and thousands of jobs at stake, said Doug Parker, editor of the Cruise Radio website.
It would be a big blow if they couldn't come to terms, and cruise ships would have to start sailing out of other ports that would accept them ... because these ships are trying to do the right thing.
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention currently requires that more than 95% of passengers and crew be vaccinated in order for cruise lines to bypass a requirement for trial voyages.
The two guests who tested positive this week were sailing on the Celebrity Millennium, which had departed from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten on Saturday with everyone on board fully vaccinated.
The pair, who were sharing a stateroom and are asymptomatic, were placed in isolation, Royal Caribbean said in a statement.
The chief obstacle now for cruises departing from Florida comes from Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who made his tourism-dependent state one of the first to drop its pandemic restrictions.
Last month he signed into law a Bill barring businesses from demanding vaccination passports, stopping them from requiring that employees provide proof of vaccination - and threatening fines for noncompliance that could amount, for cruise lines, to US$5,000 per passenger.
The measure takes effect Jul 1, just when cruise lines hope to resume operations after a year in which COVID-19 played havoc with their industry.
”While the governor, on the one hand, wants to see jobs back and tourism back ... (he) is kind of his worst enemy, because he's also saying, you can't ask for that same proof, Parker said.
The governor's terse response: Our state policy is our state policy.”
To DeSantis's critics, his is a political decision aimed at winning the votes of Donald Trump sympathizers - many of them vaccine skeptics - ahead of a possible re-election campaign in 2022.
With the world's three biggest cruise lines all based in Miami, the coming months offer a calendar of confusing and shifting health requirements, with conflict a near-certainty.
Carnival Cruise Line will require vaccination on cruises leaving from Texas - another Republican-led state that has been quick to drop COVID-19 curbs - but Carnival has provided no detailed information on a cruise set to leave Miami on Jul 4.
This week, Norwegian Cruise Line - which has threatened to abandon Florida ports altogether - directly defied the governor by saying it would demand proof of vaccination on all its cruises.
The third big cruise line, the Royal Caribbean Group, meantime reversed itself.