Key West votes to limit cruise ships because of coronavirus pandemic

Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP via Getty Images

Residents of Key West have voted to impose restrictions on cruise ships.

Three coronavirus-related referendums were voted on Tuesday, all of which were proposed to protect the health of Key West residents and cruisers.

In total, 63.33% voted in favor of limiting the number of cruise guests who can disembark per day to 1,500, 60.69% voted in favor of prohibiting cruise ships carrying 1,300 guests or more from disembarking and 81.20% voted to give priority to cruise lines that have the best environmental and health records, according to preliminary results reported from Keys Weekly.

Before the global coronavirus pandemic hit the cruise industry, nearly 400 ships brought 1.2 million cruise guests to the shores of Key West in 2019, according to the Miami Herald.

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However, these referendums were put together after the Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships put together a petition that included Key West residents – the group who would be most affected by the flow of tourism.

"We realized that Key West hasn't been offered the opportunity to have any input in how cruise ships come and visit us. And we decided that we needed to take a stand," said Jolly Benson, vice president at the Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, in a statement.

The vote in Key West comes days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a 40-page framework for conditional sailing order for cruise ships, which provides guidelines for safe cruise operation during the pandemic.

Conditions for sailing include coronavirus test sites, mask usage and social distancing for all passengers, heightened prevention protocols for cruise staff and more.

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The U.S. has more than 9.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard, and Florida is the third-largest hot spot out of the 50 states and District of Columbia.

As of Wednesday, the state of Florida has more than 821,120 confirmed coronavirus cases and a little more than 2,420 of those cases are located in Monroe County, which is home to Key West.

So far, major cruise lines such as Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Disney have canceled sailings for the remainder of 2020. It is not immediately clear how the referendums and the CDC framework have affected operation plans for 2021.

Not all are happy about fewer cruise ships stopping in Key West.

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Port owner and operator Pier B Development Corp. began a lawsuit against the city of Key West, the Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships and the Monroe County Supervisor of Elections in August for including the referendums on the ballot.

The federal lawsuit was dismissed in October, according to the Key West Citizen.

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