Norwegian Cruise Line’s Gem returned to cruising this past weekend, sailing out of Port Miami after a federal judge ruled that the cruise line can require passengers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination before boarding any of its ships in Florida.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams in Miami to grant Norwegian’s request for a preliminary injunction comes despite a state law passed in May that fines businesses which require proof of such vaccinations. The law imposes a fine of $5,000 per business violation for asking customers to prove they were inoculated against the virus.
Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration plans to appeal the ruling, and has said that they disagree with the ruling and will take the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
While Florida and the cruise industry tussle over the vaccination requirements, Celebrity Cruise President and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, recently told member of the Economic Club of Florida that the company is voluntarily following recommendations of experts at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while also continuing to work with Governor DeSantis’ office.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the governor of the state of Florida says. It doesn’t matter what the CDC says. Our business depends on operating in a safe and healthy environment,” said Lutoff-Perlo.
“The state of Florida does not tell us we can’t ask (whether people are vaccinated). They tell us we can’t require it,” Lutoff-Perlo said. “And so, we are working within those constraints to ensure that we live up to our commitment, as a brand, that we will sail at least 95 percent vaccinated.”
But the recent Norwegian ruling could be clearing the way for businesses across the U.S. to require customers to show proof of vaccination before being served. If the ruling is upheld, one maritime attorney says it could set a precedent that could strike down laws in several states barring businesses from requiring “vaccine passports.”
“I think the Norwegian lawsuit gave a template to businesses that feel overburdened by other states’ legislation,” said Michael Winkleman, a Miami-based attorney specializing in maritime law. While businesses in other states would have to file their own lawsuits challenging the particulars of their own state’s laws, Winkleman sees “a distinct possibility that the case will lead to all businesses being allowed to require vaccine passports.”