(The Center Square) – Florida’s U.S. senators want to create a federal task force to examine ways to streamline the revival of the state’s idled $8-billion-a-year cruise industry, a key component of the Sunshine State’s pandemic-staggered maritime economy.
Florida U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio announced they are introducing the Set Sail Safely Act, which would establish a federal Maritime Task Force to coordinate with an advisory committee to help the cruise and port industries recover from the pandemic.
Fourteen cruise lines employ nearly 150,000 state residents and operate 63 ships out of five Florida ports, where more than 11.5 million passengers spent $1.05 billion ashore in 2016, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which has set an industry-wide no-sail order that expires Oct. 1.
With cruise lines shut down since March 24 and international trade slowed, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has cost Florida’s 15 seaports $23 billion in lost economic activity and as many as 170,000 jobs, according to a study financed by the Florida Ports Council (FPC).
Florida’s $117.6 billion maritime industry – the nation’s second-largest largest – provides more than 900,000 direct and indirect jobs across the country, according to the FPC.
“Florida is a tourism state with thousands of jobs relying on the success of our ports, cruise lines and maritime industries. Over the past few months, I’ve had many conversations with leaders at Florida ports, federal agencies, and within the cruise industry about how to ensure the safety of passengers and employees,” Scott said in a news release. “As we work to solve the coronavirus and safely reopen our economy, this legislation will support the development of guidelines needed to ensure the safe resumption of our cruise lines and port operations.”
Rubio said the bill would “provide a roadmap for cruise lines and port authorities to safely resume operations, allowing our valuable tourism economy, and the people it employs, to begin to recover.”
Rubio said securing reopening guidance for cruise and port operations “is a top priority of mine,” adding the bill will “provide a roadmap for cruise lines and port authorities to safely resume operations, allowing our valuable tourism economy, and the people it employs, to begin to recover.”
The bill would require the Maritime Task Force, which would include representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies, to collect input from an advisory panel of private sector stakeholders and develop a plan for the safe resumption of cruise line operations.
Advisory panelists would include representatives from the passenger cruise line industry, U.S. ports, commercial fishermen, small businesses and health professionals.
“We welcome the opportunity to engage in strategic discussions with our federal and industry partners to develop a plan for the safe resumption of passenger operations at Florida’s seaports,” FPC President Doug Wheeler said.
“On behalf of the wider cruise community, including nearly 44,000 American travel advisors and hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. that provide products and services to cruise lines, CLIA joins our port partners in thanking Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio for their leadership in introducing this important legislation,” CLIA Global Chair Adam Goldstein said.
“The senators’ bill draws much needed attention to the importance of strategic dialogue between appropriate federal agencies and a broad group of public and private sector stakeholders to safely advance a resumption of cruising in the U.S. that mirrors the gradual and successful restart of cruise operations in Europe,” Goldstein added.