Floating Graveyards: Let’s Not Revive the Cruise Industry

Photograph Source: Wilson Hui – CC BY 2.0

Under the so-called leadership of governor Ron DeSantis, Florida is suing the federal government and CDC to allow cruises to resume sailing. As author Carl Hiaasen noted on twitter, this “stunt lawsuit by Ron DeSantis has zero chance in court,” but it’s aimed at “making DeSantis look tough for his right-wing base.” It also fits with DeSantis’ pandemicide as governor of a state that has endured over 35,000 deaths from the virus. Now he proposes to get those floating cemeteries, i.e. cruise ships, back on the water. How fitting.

Who in their right mind wants to resuscitate the cruise industry? Its wildly polluting, monstrously over-sized cruise ships routinely disgorge thousands of passengers into small port towns, literally overrunning them with tourists, and the entire industry promotes the most vulgar conspicuous consumption: pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of reclining on a deck chair alongside a pool built into a floating skyscraper. Why not just go to the beach? Oh, because that doesn’t cost money, or more accurately, doesn’t advertise that you have money to burn gazing at a chlorinated pool while surrounded by the salt water sea.

Ever since 14 passengers died of covid on the Diamond Princess cruise ship last year, while it was quarantined at Yokohama, the industry has struggled. It’s no wonder. Lots of people crammed into enclosed areas are a perfect recipe for covid outbreaks. The virus loves such conditions. After the Diamond Princess fiasco, ports blocked many cruise ships. By May 2020, covid had struck over 40 of these floating high-rises. The industry basically shut down – with over 40,000 crew members stranded on ships in June 2020, a predicament that led to suicides.

The once proud cruise ship industry, accustomed to flexing its economic muscle to strongarm reluctant governments into letting its passengers flood tiny port towns, was brought to its knees. Horrified by the implications of this collapse for capitalism’s chances of pursuing business as usual during a plague, Trump promised to help. He wasn’t the only Republican to rally to the cause of the cruise industry’s right to infect in search of profits.

Take what’s going on in Key West right now. The small locality’s effort to ban big cruise ships ran smack into the corporate bought-and-paid-for, GOP-dominated, cruise-friendly Florida state legislature. On April 28, the Florida House passed a bill to allow cruise ships, huge and small, to come to Key West. “If DeSantis instead vetoes the bill,” reported Keysweekly, “Key West’s Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships will prevail.” The weekly noted that this was unlikely.

Republican state senator Jim Boyd filed the Seaport Preemption bill to override the will of local Key West voters. This was a bad look. Especially when “a national news story revealed that Key West cruise port owner Mark Walsh – and his associated companies – had donated $995,000 to DeSantis’ political campaign,” the weekly reported. “That’s when Boyd tailored the language to prohibit all ports from restricting maritime commerce and added the measure to a broader transportation bill.”

Prospects for keeping Key West free of these floating cemeteries are grim. Remember DeSantis is the governor who on May 3 signed a bill prohibiting any business from asking for proof of a covid vaccination. He probably did not take well to the CDC’s recent caveat about the cruise industry restarting “only if ships can show most passengers and crew are vaccinated against Covid-19,” according to the Miami Herald. Indeed, as far as DeSantis is concerned, apparently, the best policy is Let Covid Rip. No vaccine passports. No restrictions on the cruise industry. No covid regulations of any sort. No masks. What a guy, amirite?

In this maelstrom of right-wing talking points and covid denialism, one cruise company has done the sane thing: Norwegian Cruise lines has threatened to skip Florida because of the local GOP’s proof of vaccination ban. According to the New York Times, this happened “after the state enacted legislation that prohibits businesses from requiring proof of vaccination against Covid-19 in exchange for services.” Norwegian offers trips “with limited capacity” and requires “all guests and crew members to be vaccinated.” Sounds like somebody at Norwegian figured out a reasonable business model for operating during the pandemic. But how much of the rest of the industry follows suit remains to be seen. As for Florida’s law-makers and governor – reason went out the window the moment the virus hit, over a year ago. They’ve taken Trump’s approach – deny, lie and stall, regardless of how many people die.

Some other cruise lines are in fact following Norwegian’s sober example. According to ABC News, “cruise lines are racing to get their thousands of crew members vaccinated after the [CDC] announced a potential return to sailing timeline that would have ships back in the water with paying passengers as early as mid-July. Since March 2020, the CDC has blocked cruise ships that carry more than 250 people from sailing in U.S. waters.” The CDC leaves a loophole that involves cruise ships running simulations instead of vaccinating everyone. But even if all cruise lines require everybody to be vaccinated, passengers and staff will still be confined in enclosed spaces for long periods. And the vaccines can’t perform miracles to protect 100 percent against such unfavorable conditions.

Will the cruise industry rebound? It depends on just how pugnacious or possibly litigious DeSantis is, how successful his anti-vaccine passport actions are and how feckless and suicidal American consumers decide to be. Right now, the picture is gloomy, with recollections still fresh of cruise customers locked on board, because no port outside of Cuba would allow them on land. But happily for these floating graveyards, American memories are very short. Leftists don’t call it the United States of Amnesia for nothing. And that forgetfulness isn’t just about political matters. It affects everything. So yeah, book your berth on a ten-story cruise ship now and with the aid of Florida Republicans, you too can disembark in Key West and spread covid wherever you go.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Lizard People. She can be reached at her website.