Trump administration set to steamroll CDC on cruise ships, prioritizing foreign corporations over public health

Environmental advocacy groups condemn plan to restart cruising in U.S. waters this fall

SAN FRANCISCO — Environmental advocacy groups are condemning the news that the U.S. federal government is planning to allow cruise ships to start sailing again in U.S. waters beginning on November 1, calling out the Trump administration for choosing to play politics instead of listening to scientific experts — yet again — with COVID-19.

Late Tuesday evening, an Axios scoop revealed that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had overruled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield during private conversations in the White House Situation Room. Redfield had recommended extending the no-sail order until February 2021. It is unknown whether there will be an official announcement by the CDC later today, September 30, which is the date the current no-sail order is set to expire. 

According to Axios, this undermining of the CDC “has been the source of much consternation among public health officials inside the administration, who argue that a politically motivated White House is ignoring the science and pushing too aggressively to reopen the economy and encourage large gatherings.” Axios cited public health officials who have “privately complained that the thwarting of Redfield on the cruise ship ban is politically motivated because the industry is a major economic presence in Florida — a key battleground state where the polls are statistically tied.”

“That the Trump administration intervened on behalf of cruise companies over the objections of the CDC is a damning indictment of the priorities of this administration and the cruise sector. Cruise ships played a significant role in the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. With new data showing that a third wave of infections is potentially brewing in the U.S., now is not the time to sideline the agencies in charge of protecting public health in favor of corporate foreign interests and major campaign donors. The Trump administration is choosing to play politics — yet again — with COVID-19,” said Kendra Ulrich, Shipping Campaigns Director at Stand.earth.

“The cruise industry’s negligent response to COVID-19 created hundreds of new cases and helped spread the virus around the world. The industry should not restart until it is safe for passengers, crew, and communities, but the Trump administration is putting corporate interests over science and public health,” said Marcie Keever, Oceans & Vessels program director at Friends of the Earth. “Choosing to override the CDC’s no-sail order further illustrates this administration’s incompetence and inability to keep Americans safe.”

“In the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the Public Investment Fund of petrostate Saudi Arabia took an 8.2% stake in Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest luxury cruise company that runs its ships on exceptionally dirty fossil fuel. If the Trump White House overrides the CDC and allow Carnival Corporation and its peers to reopen cruises, this administration is yet again bailing out fossil fuel interests at the expense of public health,” said Madeline Rose, Climate Campaign Director, Pacific Environment.

“Due to the threats that cruise ships pose to public health, from air pollution to COVID-19, many port communities oppose the return of cruise ships during a pandemic,” said Karla Hart, a resident of Juneau, Alaska and representative for the Global Cruise Activist Network. “We’ve told the cruise companies what they need to do for us to welcome them back.”

Despite boasting headquarters in Miami, Florida, all three major cruise companies — Carnival Corporation, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Royal Carribean — pay almost nothing in U.S. taxes because their corporations are registered overseas. Additionally, because their ships are flagged in foreign countries, these companies are also sheltered from the U.S.’s strong labor and environmental laws. Earlier this year, similar concerns over U.S. taxpayer funding being used to support foreign corporations led a coalition of green groups to successfully lobby Congress to not bail out the cruise industry.

“If the Trump administration were truly concerned about public health and stopping the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be taking the recommendations of health authorities rather than championing the interests of foreign corporations. Not only did cruise ships help spread the pandemic, cruise companies boast a long track record of environment lawbreaking and they contribute to significant air and climate pollution. Climate change is already linked to an increased risk of global pandemics, and air pollution has been linked to an increased risk of severe respiratory illness. The time to take bold action to demand the transformation of this industry before its returns to sailing is now,” said Ulrich.

In September, more than 50,000 people signed a petition calling for the CDC to extend the no-sail order for cruise ships. Stand.earth Friends of the Earth US, and other organizations also sent a technical letter and submitted thousands of unique comments to the CDC.

Media contact: Aisha Dukule, [email protected]

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