By Arlo Haskell

The Key West Chamber of Commerce has been struggling to discredit a report by my group, the

Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, that shows cruise ships bring 50% of all visitors to Key West but only 8% of tourist spending. Now they say we were right all along.

The Chamber claims cruise ships generate $90 million, or 8% of our $1.1 billion tourist economy, but they don’t consider the negative economic costs of large cruise ships. Nor does the Chamber acknowledge the environmental damage and health risks of large cruise ships. 

In November, voters will decide on amendments that reduce the size of cruise ships allowed in Key West, thus reducing the risks to our environment and public health. These amendments will promote the smaller, safer cruise ships that are the fastest-growing sector of the cruise industry.

The Chamber says 833 local jobs “supported by” cruise ships are at risk. But read the fine print here. 

It’s a clever but misleading statistic. 

This is not 833 bartenders, boat captains and line cooks. It’s the Chamber’s best guess at the so-called ripple effect of measuring economic impact. It’s no coincidence that jobs “supported by” cruise ships account for just 8% of jobs supported by tourism.


The vast majority of jobs in Key West see no benefit whatsoever from cruise ships. And for many of those that do, cruise ships make up a fraction of the day-to-day business.

The Chamber assumes a total ban on cruise ships in Key West. But remember, there is no ban. So where does the truth lie?

Well, let’s look at some real jobs that are directly impacted by large cruise ships. 

A 2013 study by the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust found charter fishing brought $740 million into the Florida Keys — more than eight times the amount generated by cruise ships. Charter fishing alone supports almost 8,000 jobs. Large cruise ships cause chronic water quality issues that kill the coral reefs and seagrass beds the fishery depends on. The reef-dependent economy also includes jobs in commercial fishing, diving, and water-based tours. These jobs are directly threatened by large cruise ships.

For the foreseeable future, tourist jobs everywhere are threatened by the public health risk associated with large cruise ships.

Over 85% of cruise ships entering U.S. waters after March 1 carried COVID-19. Top medical officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC director Robert Redfield, have said the risk of infectious disease outbreak on cruise ships exceeds almost any other group activity. Dr. Martin Cetron at the CDC compares the risk of infection on cruise ships to nursing homes and prisons.

The Chamber wants you to think the referenda will put people out of work. The truth is they represent a few wealthy businessmen who value big profits over the health and safety of our community.

We are learning the hard way that public health is an essential part of a successful tourist industry. Key West’s workforce literally cannot survive if we keep catering to large cruise ships.

In November, voters can place sensible limits on cruise ships in Key West. Voting yes will have a profoundly positive impact on our environment, our health, and, yes, our economy.

Arlo Haskell is treasurer of the Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships.

Opinion – Bar pilots sue to stop cruise ship vote 

Federal lawsuit says judge, not voters, should decide

By Arlo Haskell

The Key West Bar Pilots Association filed a lawsuit in federal court last week to keep cruise ship referenda off the November ballot. The suit names Joyce Griffin, Monroe County’s non-partisan supervisor of elections; the City of Key West; and the Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, the nonprofit group that organized a successful petition drive to give voters the final word on an issue that has long vexed the community.

The ballot questions ask voters whether or not to limit the capacity of cruise ships and the number of daily disembarkations, and whether or not to prioritize cruise ships with better public health and environmental records. The Key West Chamber of Commerce endorsed one of the three referenda last week. Key West Mayor Teri Johnston described the proposed amendments during a candidates’ forum as a “compromise between the numbers of passengers and the size of ships and the environmental issues we’ve had.”

The pilots’ lawsuit claims the amendments would be the end of cruise ships coming to Key West. They claim no modern cruise ships meet the proposed criteria, despite the fact that such ships have called on Key West in recent years. Their claim is also at odds with recent comments by Mayor Johnston, who said that executives from Royal Caribbean have offered assurances that they are “willing to work with the City of Key West and accommodate the request of the citizens.”

However, if a federal judge agrees with the pilots, the cruise ship questions would be deleted from the November ballot.

The Bar Pilots Association is made up of four captains who contract with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, a conglomerate of 15 member cruise lines. The pilots provide cruise ships with assistance when they come into and out of port and are paid according to the size of the vessel they handle. According to an investigation by the Port of Miami, the four Key West pilots earned over $2 million in 2015.

“This lawsuit is a desperate ploy to stop Key West’s 15,000 voters from exercising their rights,” says Arlo Haskell, treasurer of the Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships. “Whatever you think about cruise ships in Key West, everyone has the right to vote on an issue that will impact our public health, our environment, and our economy. We will fight the Bar Pilots with everything we’ve got to make sure Key West voters are allowed to decide for themselves.”

Arlo Haskell
Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships

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