Norwegian Cruise Line can require Florida passengers to show proof of Covid vaccination, federal judge rules


Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dawn

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Norwegian Cruise Line said Sunday that a federal judge ruled to temporarily halt enforcement of a Florida law prohibiting businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams granted the preliminary injunction, allowing Norwegian to require vaccine documentation from customers while the case heads to trial. The Norwegian Gem is scheduled to depart Miami on Aug. 15. It is the cruise line’s first trip from the state since the pandemic halted the cruise industry’s operations more than a year ago.

Infection levels in Florida have risen 51% in the last seven days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The state reported 134,506 new Covid cases from July 30 to Aug. 5, more than any other 7-day period tracked by JHU, and new case positivity is at 18.9%.

“It’s scary what’s happening in Florida,” Derek Shaffer, an attorney for Norwegian Cruise Line, said during a court hearing held Friday to request the injunction. “All of Florida is a hot spot … All we’re doing is trying to protect our staff and passengers.”

Norwegian CEO Frank Del Rio said the company is trying to ensure the safety of passengers and crew.

“The health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit is our number one priority, today, tomorrow and forever,” Del Rio said in a statement Sunday. “It’s not a slogan or a tagline, we fiercely mean it and our commitment to these principles is demonstrated by the lengths our Company has gone through to provide the safest possible cruise experience from Florida.”

On Friday, Florida attorney Pete Patterson said the law protects customer’s civil liberties and prevents businesses from discriminating against the unvaccinated.

“You can’t discriminate against customers on the basis of their refusal to give you information,” Patterson said.

If the cruise line had not received the injunction and continued to request proof of vaccination for the upcoming voyage, it could have been subject to prosecution and fines of up to $5,000 per passenger under the Florida law.

In his argument, Shaffer said “no cruise line in Norwegian’s position can afford to withstand” a fine of that amount. Shaffer claimed the Florida legislature wants to “score political points” in the vaccination debate.

If the law stays in place, the cruise operator could be forced to cancel upcoming cruises or “sail in ways that are worse for our passengers and crew,” Shaffer said.

The company, which operates the Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands, filed suit against the Florida surgeon general in July challenging the law.

Norwegian’s attorney said the company waited to file the suit until it saw a federal appeals court ruling in another case filed by Florida against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The court sided with Florida, which had claimed the CDC’s regulations for cruise ships were too onerous and were costing it millions of dollars in tax revenue.

The cruise operator plans to require all guests and crew on its voyages to be fully vaccinated and will require them to take Covid-19 tests prior to embarkation.

On Friday, Norwegian said its second-quarter loss grew to $717.8 million, or $1.94 per share, on revenue of $4.37 million. The company said it expects it will continue to post losses until the cruise line is able to resume regular voyages.

This article was originally published on CNBC