Dear Editor,

Key Westers of all persuasions will certainly agree that the coronavirus pandemic has changed our world and how we look at it. Nearly overnight, long-held paradigms about our economy, jobs, social interactions and tolerance for others’ points of view were transformed.  A huge change for Key Westers was the view of tourism and its significance to our economy and livelihoods.  

Tourism, in all its manifestations, was and remains the foundation of the Key West economy.  Regrettably, a small clique decided to use the pandemic to advance their longtime aversion to the cruise industry and cruise tourists. Highly organized and well-funded by an elite cabal, they employed fear and misinformation to push the pending cruise ship referenda onto the ballot.  One has to admire their energy and focus, while condemning their orchestrated tactics.

Whatever your view about environmental impacts, water quality and the pandemic, the Safer Cleaner Ships Committee (SCS) wrote three referenda that actually defeat their own stated purpose. If passed and implemented, the referenda will exclude the newest, most efficient, and environmentally advanced ships in the fleet. SCS wants only the “small” ships that call about 20 times per year. Perhaps they are unaware of the reality that these ships are, on average, much older. They lack the cutting-edge water/waste treatment and propulsion systems that the cruise lines have invested in over the past two decades. The referenda will exclude the newest cruise ship, Scarlet Lady of Virgin Voyages, from docking in Key West. She employs the best environmental technology and will serve a high-end clientele. It’s just the sort of ship that SCS says they want, yet their ignorance of the cruise industry and fleet will ban it from Key West because she carries more passengers that the referenda will allow. Their prejudice obscures reality.

The cruise lines are presently working diligently with the Centers for Disease Control to design and implement new protocols for cruising that will render cruise ship passengers the safest, cleanest tourists on the planet. They have voluntarily delayed resumption of cruises until they get the protocols right and install the new infrastructures that will make cruising the most COVID-safe of all tourism modes.

Here are some examples of the new COVID protocols:

All passengers must present proof of a negative COVID test taken within three days of arrival at the terminal. In addition, passengers will take a COVID test in the terminal, with results available in 15 minutes. A positive test will prohibit the person and their entire group from boarding. The same protocol for crew.

The number of passengers will be reduced below full capacity.


While aboard, passengers will wear a wristband that transmits body temperature to discreet scanners that will report elevated temperatures.

Wearing of masks in all public areas aboard will be mandatory. Social distancing will be encouraged between groups. No buffet meals.  

If anyone becomes infected, they will be quarantined in designated isolation cabins.

Shore visitation will be strictly limited to approved and supervised shore excursions that follow COVID protocols. Anyone leaving the excursion group will not be allowed to return to the ship.

The ventilation systems on cruise ships are being retrofitted with ionization screens that will interdict and kill ambient COVID viruses.

Obviously, if COVID does appear on a ship, it will not enter a scheduled port-of-call like Key West.

These are just some of the new protocol rules that will be implemented. They will evolve and be amended as needed, but clearly the cruise lines intend to take the lead in safe tourism. The same cannot be said about airlines and tour buses, which do not test or screen passengers, they do not use social distancing, rules on mask wearing are lax. There will be no controls on tourists arriving by car.

COVID has recently spiked in Key West though cruise ships have not visited in 7 months. SCS disregards this fact. They prefer to deflect attention from inconvenient truths. For example, SCS wants voters to believe cruise ships cause reef decline while ignoring the recent Florida Atlantic University study that resolutely places the blame on land-based pollution. If cruise ships hurt coral, why did the Navy remove and transplant over 400 live corals from their cruise dock pilings during reconstruction?  

SCS opposition to cruise ships is founded in economic intolerance of others and an elitist goal to make Key West into a tropical Nantucket. If you want safer, cleaner ships and tourists in Key West, reject SCS tactics of fear and deception and vote NO to the referenda in November. 

John E. Wells
Ships’ agent (retired)

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