Business/Economy

CDC says Florida lawsuit imperils summer cruises to Alaska

U.S. officials say Florida’s lawsuit against the federal government over conditions for cruise lines to resume sailing could threaten plans to restart cruising in Alaska.

Florida sued the Biden administration to throw out requirements, called a conditional sailing order, that were imposed on cruise lines before they can sail in U.S. waters for the first time since March 2020.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that Congress effectively ratified the conditional sailing order when it passed a law last month to let large cruise ships resume trips from Washington state to Alaska this summer.

If Florida wins an injunction blocking the CDC order, it would “end cruising in Alaska for the season,” lawyers for the agency say, because the bill pushed by Alaska’s Republican congressional delegation hinges on the CDC order being in effect. Several cruise lines have announced plans to sail to Alaska with vaccinated crew members and passengers starting in a few weeks.

Alaska estimates that cruising contributes $3 billion a year to the state economy. Alaska sided with Florida in the CDC lawsuit on April 20, and Texas, another state with a large cruise industry, is seeking to join the case.

One month later, Congress passed legislation allowing large ships to bypass Canada this year. A law dating to 1886 requires Alaska-bound ships to stop in Canada unless they are registered in the United States. Almost all large cruise ships are registered in foreign nations, allowing them to sidestep American wage and safety laws.

[Big cruise ships aren’t coming to Southcentral Alaska this year. But local tourism operators say independent travelers are helping offset the loss.]

Alaska’s attorney general’s office complained in a court filing this week about the CDC’s “constantly-morphing orders, restrictions and guidance” for large cruise ships.

It said it “firmly disagrees” with the CDC analysis but did not elaborate. It reiterated its support for the Florida lawsuit after the CDC’s legal filing.

Federal lawyers also said in a filing this week that granting Florida’s wish to block the CDC’s regulation of the cruising restart would undermine public confidence in cruising, “particularly in the state of Florida, which is publicly battling with the industry over its own laws.”

That was a reference to concern among cruise lines that a state law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that would prohibit the companies from requiring that passengers be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The federal judge overseeing Florida’s lawsuit against the Biden administration ordered both sides into mediation, which has failed to end the standoff.

[Juneau petitioners fail to get proposed cruise ship restrictions on local ballot]

Alaska does not prohibit businesses from requiring employees or customers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. A draft agreement between the state, Norwegian Cruise Lines and several Southeast Alaska cruise ports states that all Norwegian passengers and crew must be vaccinated before visiting Alaska.

That agreement has yet to be signed by local communities, and similar agreements with other cruise lines are being drafted.

Daily News reporter James Brooks contributed to this article from Juneau.

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