Judge: Norwegian Cruises Can Require Proof of Vaccination

MIAMI (AP) -- A federal judge on Sunday night granted Norwegian Cruise Line's request to temporarily block a Florida law banning cruise companies from asking passengers for proof of coronavirus vaccination before they board a ship.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams granted the preliminary injunction in a lawsuit challenging the state's "vaccine passport" ban, which was signed into law in May by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

In a nearly 60-page ruling, the judge said Florida failed to "provide a valid evidentiary, factual, or legal predicate" for banning vaccination proof. Williams also said the cruise line company "has demonstrated that public health will be jeopardized if it is required to suspend its vaccination requirement."

Norwegian also contends that the law is an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment's free speech guarantee. The lawsuit names state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, who leads the Florida Department of Health. The state's attorney, Pete Patterson, previously said the law's aim is to prevent discrimination against passengers who don't get vaccinated.

A Norwegian cruise is set to depart from Miami on Aug. 15 -- the company's first voyage from Florida since the pandemic halted its operations.

"We welcome today's ruling that allows us to sail with 100% fully vaccinated guests and crew which we believe is the safest and most prudent way to resume cruise operations amid this global pandemic," Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, said in a statement Sunday.