Virgin Voyages’ new cruise ship Scarlet Lady would exceed the proposed limitations of cruise ships in Key West. VIRGIN VOYAGES/Contributed

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled in favor of the committee that wants Key West voters to decide on limitations to the island’s cruise ship industry. 

The three questions will appear on the November ballot, Judge James King ruled on Aug. 12.

“It will be on the ballot,” the judge ruled, but said he is not ruling on the merits of the case at this time.

Legal challenges to the proposed limitations on cruise ship size and capacity are expected if Key West voters approve the ballot referendums on Nov. 3.

At Wednesday’s bench trial, the Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships prevailed in a lawsuit filed by the Key West Bar Pilots and owners of the privately owned Pier B cruise ship pier. The lawsuit claims the local ballot referendum is improper, in part, because port operations are governed by maritime law, which is a federal issue, not a local issue.

King declined to rule on the merits of those claims, saying those can be decided after the election if the referendums pass. 

“I think that’s something that should await the passage or failure of the ballot questions,” King said. “This case is complex and far transcends the usual admiralty case of who gets the sunken treasure in Key West.

“Waiting until the election will have no impact on these businesses because cruise ships aren’t docking right now anyway,” King said during the nearly four-hour Zoom hearing.

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