Key West voters to decide on banning big cruise ships
Most cruise aficianodos say they are fine with vaccine passports.

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The proposal is one of three on the Nov. 3 ballot that would regulate the cruise ship industry.

Large cruise ships could soon be banned from docking at the Key West port if locals approve a referendum Nov. 3.

The proposal is part of a trio of reforms put forward in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. That outbreak came to national attention in part because of several serious outbreaks on cruise ships.

One referendum would block cruise ships containing 1,300 passengers or more from letting passengers off in Key West. Another proposal states no more than 1,500 cruise ship passengers can disembark in Key West per day. The third and final question would allow cruise ships with better health and environmental records to move to the front of the line in terms of docking.

A political action committee called Key West Committee for Cleaner, Safer Ships is behind the proposed changes. The group used the petition method to place the referendums on the ballot. Last month, a U.S. District Court dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block the ballot proposals.

That means a majority of voters will be able to approve each individual change on Nov. 3.

“The reality is that cruise lines themselves are a vector that have a long history, particularly the largest ships, of carrying all kinds of viral diseases,” said Peter Homer, an attorney for the group backing the ballot measure.

“Legionnaires Disease, they’ve had outbreaks of those. Obviously COVID-19 has been a big issue. Norovirus, you read about that all the time in the paper, with ships having outbreaks of that,” he said.

The virus has hit Key West’s tourism industry hard. Fantasy Fest, an annual celebration in October that attracts tens of thousands, has been canceled.

While the cruise industry attracts plenty of business to the region, the city also bears plenty of costs to help transport passengers to downtown and provide security. The group backing the referendums argues the health risks and additional costs outweigh any benefits from an eventually-rebooted cruise industry.

U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King, who dismissed the challenge to the referendums, also opened the possibility he could review the proposed changes once again, if approved.

“They don’t necessarily fail,” King said of the potential challenges last month. “They just fail today.”

The judge argued he did not have jurisdiction to weigh whether Key West is permitted to regulate cruise ships per the proposals until they are actually approved by voters.

Right now, the issue is a moot point as the cruise industry remains in stasis here in the U.S. But the changes could be significant going forward. According to the Miami Herald, 2019 saw nearly 400 cruise ships dock in Key West. Those ships carried 1.2 million passengers and crew members.

The Herald also reviewed Key West records showing more than 100,000 cruise ship passengers visited Key West in February. Under the proposed limit of only 1,500 passengers allowed to disembark per day, that cap would be lowered to around 45,000 visitors per month.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


  • Michael Ritchie

    September 30, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    Giant cruise ships carrying thousands of rude, demanding passengers– who crowd our narrow streets, ignore traffic laws and common courtesy– have destroyed the quality of life in Key West.
    We are tired of it and won’t stand for it any longer.
    While big business interests continue to fight for more, bigger ships, our local politicians have come to see that residents are demanding better for our tiny island.
    We are taking control of our own future.
    We will control size and number of cruise ships from now on.

  • James Robert Miles

    September 30, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    Not to mention how cruise ships pollute the pristine waters around Key West by dumping trash and human waste into the ocean. They could clean up their act but it would of course, cost them money so they don’t want to do that. The people need to decide what they get from the cruise ship industry for putting up with their thousands of tourists and their waste! Is it worth it?

  • DB

    October 5, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    I am a Florida resident. With out cruise ships is key west, you should just close the island, shut the bridges. The local economy needs the cruise ships. I drove down from Orlando and spent the week in Key West. Shops were closed, restaurants were closed, it was horrible. Nobody wants to go on vacation, and not see or do anything. I spent my money elsewhere, as I had nothing to spend it on in Key West. I agree, take smaller ships, like 2200 > 2500 passengers. But come on, close to all cruise ships is crazy. You will go broke and homeless, you need the cruise industry.

Comments are closed.


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