By John Haughey
The Center Square
October 1, 2020
Florida’s idled $8-billion-a-year cruise industry can set sail again Nov. 1 under a plan endorsed by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
“The Florida delegation is very supportive and is trying to work with the administration and the CDC to see what efforts we can do to get the industry up and operating,” Florida Ports Council (FPC) Vice President of Governmental Affairs Michael Rubin said. “It’s still the only industry that’s not allowed to operate at the moment.”
If it was up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or at least Director Dr. Robert Redfield, the “no sail” order for cruise ships from U.S. ports would remain in effect until February.
President Donald Trump’s administration blocked the CDC’s pending order to keep cruise ships docked until mid-February on Tuesday, opting to go with a Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) plan that outlines a gradual resumption of sailing Nov. 1, starting with voyages containing crew members posing as passengers.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern told the New York Times the administration’s actions are based on science, not politics.
“The president, the vice president and the task force follow the science and data to implement policies that protect the public health and also facilitate the safe reopening of our country,” he said.
CLIA’s plan extends its April voluntary “no sail” order that expires Thursday by one month and is based on recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel, established by major cruise lines and led by former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt and former U.S. Food & Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
Fourteen cruise lines employ nearly 150,000 state residents and operate 63 ships out of five Florida ports, where more than 11.5 million passengers spent $1.05 billion ashore in 2016, according to CLIA.
With U.S. cruise lines shut down since March 24 and international trade slowed, a chief component of Florida’s $117.6 billion maritime industry – the nation’s second-largest largest – has been removed from the equation for six months.
According to a study financed by FPC, the COVID-19 pandemic has cost Florida’s 15 seaports $23 billion in “lost” economic activity and as many as 170,000 of the more than 900,000 jobs the state’s maritime industry generates across the country.
A Sept. 24 report by U.S. Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis Sola said Florida has lost $3.2 billion in economic activity and 49,500 local jobs that pay $2.3 billion in wages as a result of the suspension of cruising in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly 60 percent of all U.S. cruise embarkations occur in Florida.
Florida’s busiest port, PortMiami, welcomed 6.8 million cruise passengers in 2019, supporting 30,000 local jobs, generating $5.8 billion in economic value and paying $188 million in taxes, according to Sola. PortMiami estimates it will lose at least $55 million this year.
“It is not just large companies that benefit from the cruise industry,” Sola said. “Cruise customers begin and end their voyages by using taxis, eating in restaurants, visiting museums and shopping in local businesses. These are small- and medium-sized businesses; many are independently or family owned. The cessation of cruise operations can affect them as much, or more, as it does the companies that operate the ships or the ports where the vessels call.”