Key West voters approve limits on cruise industry

Key West Florida [Credit: Felix Mizioznikov/]
Key West voters have approved measures to cap the number of cruisers allowed ashore and the size of ships allowed to dock. Photo Credit: Felix Mizioznikov/

Voters in Key West decisively approved measures to cap the number of cruisers allowed ashore and the size of ships allowed to dock and to give priority to ships based on their health and environmental records.

Between 60% and 80% of voters said yes to three measures that: ban cruise ships that carry more than 1,300 people, including passengers and crew; allow only 1,500 cruise passengers per day to disembark; and require ports to prioritize berthing to companies based on their scores with the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program and their record of environmental violations.  

The committee that organized the three referendums, the Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, says on its website that large cruise ships are at higher risk of carrying Covid-19 and that cruise ship traffic "causes chronic water-quality issues in the Florida Keys." 

"Smaller ships are safer and cleaner," the group says. "Smaller ships attract higher-spending customers. Smaller ships have significantly less impact on the marine environment."

Related report: CDC footnote: No sailing in 2020

According to the Florida Ports Council, Key West is one of the busiest cruise ports in the nation, with about 393 ships and 913,323 passengers visiting during the 2018-19 season. 

The group quotes a former mayor of Monroe County, Shirley Freeman, as saying that large cruise ships make Key West "uncomfortably crowded" and attract merchants with the same shops in every port, "taking away from the uniqueness of Key West." 

"Before big cruise ships, the water here was crystal clear," Freeman said. "Now, since Covid-19 has stopped all cruise ships temporarily, the water is much clearer."

The Florida Ports Council says the Port of Key West has an annual economic impact of $85 million, providing 1,250 direct and indirect jobs to the 25,000 citizens of Key West, while contributing 15% of the city's total tax revenue. The organization also says cruise ship visitors, as opposed to those who drive in, don't "contribute vehicular traffic to the overburdened U.S. 1 corridor."

Updated: This report was updated Nov. 4 with additional information about the measures.


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