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A Judge OKs Cruise Lines' COVID Vaccination Requirement For Passengers In Florida

The Norwegian Gem cruise ship leaves the Port of Miami in April 2020. The Norwegian Gem's first trip since a pandemic-induced hiatus is scheduled to sail from Miami on Aug. 15.
Cliff Hawkins
Getty Images
The Norwegian Gem cruise ship leaves the Port of Miami in April 2020. The Norwegian Gem's first trip since a pandemic-induced hiatus is scheduled to sail from Miami on Aug. 15.

Norwegian Cruise Line can require that passengers show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination before boarding any of its ships in Florida, a federal judge has ruled.

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 that require proof of such vaccinations.

The law, championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, slaps businesses with a fine of $5,000 per violation for asking customers to prove that they have been inoculated against the coronavirus.

In her decision, Williams said Norwegian would likely succeed in a court trial with its argument that Florida's so-called vaccine passport ban risks public health and infringes on the cruise line's First Amendment rights.

Williams' decision also allows Norwegian to proceed with its first trip from Miami since the pandemic widely disrupted the cruise line industry in March 2020. Norwegian Cruise Line is one of several companies that sail from ports in Florida.

Frank Del Rio, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said in a statement Sunday that the company welcomes Williams' ruling. He said it "allows us to sail with 100% fully vaccinated guests and crew which we believe is the safest and most prudent way to resume cruise operations amid this global pandemic."

Confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Florida are at an all-time high as the delta variant surges around the nation and the world. On Sunday, approximately 1 in 4 hospital beds in Florida had a COVID-19 patient in it.

Despite this, DeSantis continues to fight more sweeping coronavirus measures such as mask mandates.

Norwegian said it implements a 100% vaccination level rule for guests and crew members in each port it sails out of around the world.

The company is relying on "robust science-backed health and safety protocols" in which vaccines are the "cornerstone" to provide what Norwegian believes is the safest experience for travelers.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, and the latest surge in Florida, the state prohibited Norwegian from implementing its vaccine documentation rule. The company filed its lawsuit in July against Florida's surgeon general and the head of the state's Department of Health after failing to reach an agreement with officials over vaccine requirements.

Neither the surgeon general nor the Florida Department of Health issued a statement on the judge's ruling Sunday.

To date, the halt in operations during the pandemic cost Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which operates the Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands, more than $6 billion, the company claims in court documents.

Norwegian Cruise Line's first trip departing out of Florida since the pandemic disrupted business last year is scheduled to leave Miami on Sunday.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.