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Letter of Commissioner Sola to Governor DeSantis

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Commissioner Louis E. Sola wrote to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on June 30, 2021 regarding COVID-19 Vaccinations and cruise travel.

The text of the letter is below.

Dear Governor DeSantis:

I am writing to you in my capacity as one of five commissioners of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), an independent federal agency charged with regulating U.S. ocean commerce. Our mission is to ensure a competitive and reliable international ocean transportation system that supports the U.S. economy and protects the public from unfair practices. We are also the body of the federal government specifically tasked with oversight of consumers’ rights in the cruise industry. To that end, the FMC established Fact Finding 30 to examine the effect of the pandemic upon the cruise industry and cruise ports. As the Commission’s fact-finding officer, I have taken the lead in addressing issues related to cruise travel and the cessation of operations for some 15 months, including detailed analyses of the devasting economic consequences on key cruise port states such as Florida, Texas, and Alaska.

First, I want to thank you for your support in addressing the difficulties uniquely imposed upon the cruise industry by the current pandemic. It is estimated that Florida has lost $3.2 billion in economic activity from the shutdown of the industry. Your steadfast opposition to unequal, disproportionate and overzealous restrictions from regulators at all levels has proven instrumental in ensuring the more than 49,000 Floridians who work for the industry and earn $2.3 billion in wages can now return to work safely. You are to be commended for your efforts. Thanks to you, the cruise industry protocols for COVID-19 are not nearly as extreme or unduly onerous when compared to comparable sectors of travel, tourism, and hospitality.

Regrettably, however, recent staff interpretations within your Administration of the newly enacted state law banning vaccine passports undermines much of what you have accomplished. While I appreciate and fully respect your and the State of Florida’s earnest rejection of vaccine passports, we must also recognize and make allowances for limitations inherent in business operations such as the cruise industry, which, unlike many other businesses, is international in nature, federally regulated, and inextricably tied to public health safety well beyond Florida’s borders. In fact, as part of your recent victory in the State of Florida’s lawsuit against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the court expressly determined that Florida’s vaccine passport ban does not apply to federal regulation of vaccinations in the cruise industry. See Opinion, at page 18, footnote 8.

A well-accepted principle of international law is that a sovereign nation alone may determine which citizens may enter its territory and under what conditions. The COVID-19 Pandemic is a particularly stark reminder of that precept. Just as the US requires certain formalities and documents to enter our country, foreign nations also do so as specified in a variety of long-established international treaties. The same principle applies each time an aircraft departs the U.S. for a foreign destination requiring passports, visas, customs declarations, and, when concern over the international spread of communicable diseases is present, proof of vaccines. These formalities are wide-ranging, universal, and deemed so essential that proof of vaccination is a mandatory prerequisite for international travel to many countries around the globe, no matter what the mode of transportation.

Some in your Administration have apparently confused the well-intentioned state law, banning vaccine verification to gain entry to facilities or receive services wholly located in Florida, with the century old, bedrock vaccination mandates for international travel. The simple truth is that no state can impede international commerce or travel, nor public health measures or entry requirements of national, regional, or international authorities. This jurisdictional limitation is no less apparent for COVID-19 than it is for any of the other communicable diseases and vaccines recognized and required throughout the world as vital components of international travel and public health.

Florida’s ban is aimed at requirements imposed solely by private businesses, not by national governments outside Florida. In addition, all international carriers must comply with the vaccine mandates of foreign nations to which travelers are transported. Just as is the case with airlines and other carriers for a host of other vaccines, the Carriers are responsible to implement the governments’ vaccine/entry policies, including obtaining documents verifying vaccinations before transporting travelers subject to vaccine mandates.

In sum, vaccine verification is essential on cruise ships given the international travel involved with all cruise itineraries. These verification protocols are also required by national governments in the U.S. and abroad, which requirements cannot be abrogated by any state.

After all your efforts to level the playing field and compel the CDC and other regulators to treat the cruise industry in the same fashion as other international carriers and tourism sectors, it would be truly damaging, both economically and to public health, to now impose a standard singling out cruise lines for disparate treatment. I am monitoring this situation closely, in active conversation with my fellow commissioners at the FMC, and sincerely hope you will clarify, as other states have consistently done, that international travel remains solely in the hands of federal authorities.

Just as you and I have recently worked together on port and crew vaccinations, I hope that we might be able to discuss personally a way forward on this matter later this week.

Sincerely,

Louis E. Sola Commissioner

Louis E. Sola is a Commissioner with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission. The thoughts and comments expressed here are their own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.