Norwegian Cruise Line challenges Florida ban on ‘vaccine passports’ ahead of resuming trips in state

Norwegian Cruise Line challenges Florida ban on ‘vaccine passports’ ahead of resuming trips in state
Company has already committed to vaccinating its full staff

It’s not usual to see businesses in federal court demanding more regulation, but the pandemic isn’t a normal time.

On Friday, the Norwegian Cruise Line urged a federal court in Florida to be allowed to require passengers to show proof of vaccination before boarding their ships in the state, which are set to embark for the first time in more than a year on 15 August.

During the pandemic, the state banned “vaccine passports”, and barring a change or injunction to the law, Norwegian could be fined as much as $5,000 per passenger who boards if they require proof of the jab.

“They want to score political points for one side in a raging debate over whether people should be vaccinated,” Derek Shaffer, an attorney for the cruise line, said of Florida authorities like Republican governor Ron DeSantis.

The company has previously committed to health authorities that at least 95 per cent of its travellers will be vaccinated, but under the Florida law, businesses, government entities, and schools can’t require proof of vaccination. There are only limited exceptions to the policy, like at healthcare facilities.

During the hearing, Federal Judge Kathleen Williams pressed the state to explain the rationale behind banning vaccine passports for consumers, but still permitting businesses to require shots for their employees.

“Don’t you think it’s odd the statute doesn’t worry about discrimination of the state’s employees who are here in Florida but is focused on patrons of a business, who in this case, are sailing away to other ports of call?” she said.

The state’s lawyer Pete Patterson argued it didn’t want to keep customers from participating in the economy.

“We don’t want them to carry vaccine documentation to access the economic marketplace,” Mr Patterson said.

Cruise companies have been largely out of commission since the CDC’s March 2020 “no sail order,” and are just now returning to service. Norwegian’s first post-pandemic cruise will leave from Alaska on Saturday.

The company has already required vaccines for all of its staff.

“Our policy of 100 per cent vaccinations, coupled with pre-boarding testing of guests and routine testing of crew, is in place without issue in the nearly 500 ports we sail to and from around the world, except Florida ports,” CEO Frank Del Rio said on an earnings call on Friday.