TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s now up to a federal judge to decide if its time for Florida’s cruise ships to set sail sooner rather than later.

What You Need To Know

The U.S. Department of Justice squared off against the state Wednesday in front of U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a lawsuit last month, alleging that the CDC had overstepped its boundaries when it came to cruise ship restrictions.

Moody said Florida’s cruise ports have sat empty for too long since the CDC banned cruise lines from operating and has yet to lift the restrictions. The CDC has said it will not give up on its phased approach to allowing cruise lines to sail again.

“Cruises are operating in other countries,” Moody said. “And they're doing so with little to no spread of the virus, we can do that in the United States to think otherwise is putting the priority of other countries ahead of the United States.”

If the judge grants an injunction, then cruises in the state could resume mid-summer.

State attorneys claim that the CDC program for cruise lines to resume operations is too strict and taking too long, which is causing devastating financial impact. They made the case that cruise lines were singled out, when airlines continued to run through the pandemic. Attorneys also referenced cruises now running in foreign countries, including Italy and the United Kingdom.

Alaska and Texas joined Florida’s lawsuit against the government, and Moody wants a preliminary injunction to block all the restrictions on the cruise ship industry.

“What that means to Florida is hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions in revenue,” Moody said. “And so after trying in all avenues to try and get the administration to be reasonable, to see that we are in a new time, with new medications, with new parameters on how to control the spread of the virus, it needs a new approach and opening up our cruise lines.”

State attorneys also pushed back regarding the trial runs for cruise ships, which would cause the financially-strapped cruise industry to pay people to ride as a type of test before opening for business.

An attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice said that the state can’t force them to reopen the cruise line business, and that the CDC rules are to benefit all Americans. The argument is that the death toll on ships during the start of the pandemic was catastrophic and costly.

The CDC’s conditional safe sailing requirements include testing crew members for COVID-19 weekly and capacity limits, among others. ​

There’s also been mention of cruise lines requiring passengers to be vaccinated, but Gov. Ron Desantis banned “vaccine passports” in Florida.

Moody said she’s not worrying about that right now, instead she’s focused on step one, getting the restrictions on cruising lifted, then once that’s done, she’ll focus on how they’ll operate.

CDC response

"(The) CDC does not exercise jurisdiction over ships operating outside of U.S. waters that do not intend to return to U.S. waters," Jason McDonald, a CDC public affairs specialist, explained to Spectrum News.

McDonald said while passenger operations within the U.S. are currently suspended, any cruise line planning to resume passenger travel must follow the agency’s conditional sail order requirements.

The order applies to any cruise ship that either operates in or plans to operate in U.S. waters.

“Returning to passenger cruising is a phased approach to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19,” said McDonald as he explained the purpose of the order.

He stated that the order, which was issued by the CDC on October 30, 2020, remains in effect until November 1, 2021.