Florida lawsuit could end Alaska cruise season, CDC says

Cruise ships in port in Juneau (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)
Cruise ships in port in Juneau in August 2012. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

A Florida lawsuit is challenging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic rules for cruise ships. Federal officials say if the lawsuit succeeds and the court tosses the CDC restrictions, it would have the unintended consequence of banning cruises to Alaska this summer.

The state of Florida sued the CDC in April, aiming to eliminate the agency’s pandemic restrictions on cruise ship travel. Those rules are outlined in the CDC’s evolving Framework for Conditional Sailing, often called the conditional sailing order.

Florida, along with the states of Texas and Alaska, is asking a federal judge in Tampa to throw out that order. The state argues the agency has overstepped its authority.

But lawyers for the CDC say Congress implicitly approved the agency’s cruise ship rules when it passed a law last month waiving a requirement for Alaska cruises to stop in Canada. As the law passed, several cruise lines announced plans to sail to Alaska starting in late July.

That law, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, applies only to cruises from Washington to Alaska prior to next April and only applies to cruises approved by the CDC under the conditional sailing order.

And so, the CDC argues, if there’s no conditional sailing order, that would “end cruising in Alaska for the season.”

The argument goes like this: Without the conditional sailing order, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act can’t apply. That would leave the 19th-century Passenger Vessel Services Act in place. It requires Alaska-bound cruises to stop in Canada, but Canada’s ports are closed this summer.

Attorneys for Alaska say the state “firmly disagrees” with the CDC’s assertion, but their brief doesn’t say why. In its own filing, Florida disputes that Congress approved the CDC rules when it passed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act.

The case continues in U.S. District Court in Florida June 10.

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