Yesterday, Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio introduced proposed legislation, called the “Set Sail Safely Act” in an attempt to circumvent the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from evaluating whether it is safe to resume cruises from ports in Florida, according to the Florida Politics (FLAPOL) website. The text for S.4592 has not yet been received for publication.

The Florida Senators are trying to re-start cruising from ports in Florida by stressing the economic benefits to cruise lines and ports which operate in this state. Senator Scott talked about enacting legislation to “solve the coronavirus” but mentioned no protocols which could possibly accomplish such a feat. Senator Rubio mentiond that the bill would permit “cruise lines and port authorities to safely resume operations, allowing our valuable tourism economy, and the people it employs, to begin to recover.”

FLAPOL correctly points out that “most cruise ships are flagged and registered under different (non-U.S.) countries, so there is little American federal regulation. The Rubio-Scott bill does not speak to any regulation or enforcement.” The Miami Herald’s Taylor Dolven echoed this in a tweet posted yesterday:

What is conspicuously absent from reports about the the bill is any mention that the CDC is responsible for deciding whether and when cruise lines will resume sailing from U.S. ports. The CDC first suspended cruise operations from U.S. ports in mid-March, finding that due to unique characteristics of cruise travel (international customers and crew congregating in dense, close spaces) “exacerbated the global spread of COVID-19” and inundated local healthcare systems in port communities. The CDC extended its original no-sail order until July 24, 2020 and, more recently, until September 30, 2020.

The CDC was very critical in its last no-sail order after finding that certain cruise lines failed to comply with its guidelines. Other cruise lines openly flaunted the authority of the CDC by hosting open-deck crew parties where crew members and officers were filmed crowded together on the decks of several ships with no regard for social distancing or the wearing of masks. Crew members were also forced to stay in single cabins when the CDC ordered them to stay in seperate cabins. Other cruise lines lied to their employees about repatriation issues and unreasonably delayed their return home. Finally, most companies sailed their ships away from U.S. waters to try and escape the oversight of the federal agency.

A virtual meeting recently took place between Miami-Dade comissioners and cruise executives where they openly scolded the CDC and demanded that the agency permit the industry to reopen cruises from Florida ports.

FLAPOL reported that the bill would involve the creation of a Maritime Task Force consisting of several federal agencies (excluding the CDC) and led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, with the purpose of developing a plan for the safe resumption of cruise line operations.

The federal agencies mentioned in the proposed legislation included the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, Department of State and the Federal Maritime Commission. These agencies would consult with private sector stakeholders consisting of the cruise line industry, as well as “U.S. ports, commercial fishermen, small businesses, and health professionals.”

Excluding the CDC from the so-called task force is an obvious and petty effort by the cruise lines and their allies in Congress to further rail against the agency and escape further oversight by this important agency. Neither Florida Senator Scott nor Senator Rubio are supporters of causes that would benefit consumers or crew members. They are part of a Republican Congress that supports big business at the expense of the environment. These politicians will bend over backwards to support the cruise industry, notwithstanding its foreign (non U.S.) incorporation and registration of its cruise ships in order to avoid U.S. income tax, U.S. wage and labor laws, and U.S. occupational heath and safety laws. Rubio stressed that “the cruise and maritime industries are vital to the prosperity of our state’s economy.”  And Scott said “Florida is a tourism state with thousands of jobs relying on the success of our ports, cruise lines and maritime industries.”

The majority of the proposed governmental members of the task force (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Transportation, Department of State and the Federal Maritime Commission) are not agencies which have any expertise or experience with issues of public health and epidemiology. Excluding the best health agency in the world from the process of evaluating whether and how the cruise industry should resume cruising is not only “odd,” as some commentators have suggested, but makes the “Set Sail Safely” task force a farce.

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Photo credit: Top – Port of Miami – Florida Politics