Cruise ships could permanently skip Canada on Alaska voyages under new bill

Sep 17, 2021

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Cruise lines could opt to permanently skip Canada port calls on Alaska sailings if a new bill passes. The proposed legislation, to be put forth by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would grant Alaska itineraries a permanent exemption to the longstanding Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA), which requires that foreign-flagged ships call on at least one foreign port when sailing round-trip from the U.S.

In Alaska, 10% of jobs are tied to tourism. In 2019, the state saw more than 1.3 million cruise passengers, who helped to bring $2.2 billion in visitor spending. In 2020, that all stopped.

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Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas docked in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada closed its borders to most cruise ships. Initially, it was through July 1, 2020, and applied to ships carrying 500 passengers or more. As the severity of COVID-19 increased, the mandate was extended several times, ultimately through February 2022, applicable to passenger vessels carrying 100 people or more.

In May of this year, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, which, in part, grants a temporary waiver to the 135-year-old PVSA through February 2022 by allowing round-trip sailings between the states of Washington and Alaska to be considered foreign itineraries. Canada’s ban would otherwise have effectively canceled the entire 2021 Alaska cruise season by leaving ships without any way to satisfy the PVSA’s foreign-port requirements.

Eventually, Canada’s Ministry of Tourism pulled back, changing the ban’s end date to Nov. 1, 2021, but it was too little and too late, as the Alaska cruise season ends in October.

Murkowski plans to introduce the bill next week, according to a press release. “While the PVSA is well-intentioned to protect American jobs and businesses, it had the unintended consequence of putting Alaskan businesses at the mercy of the Canadian government,” she said. “We cannot let that happen again.”

(Photo by Basic Elements Photography/Getty Images)

The PVSA largely exists to make sure that foreign-flagged vessels cannot compete with those built and flagged in the U.S. However, because the U.S. does not currently have shipyards with the capacity to build vessels as large as most modern-day cruise ships, Murkowski’s proposal allows exemptions only for passenger vessels carrying 1,000 people or more. The waiver would end if U.S. shipyards begin constructing ships larger than that size.

“Bottom line, we need to reform the PVSA so that Alaskans’ ability to engage in commerce isn’t derailed by the government of another country,” Murkowski said.

If the bill passes, it could be bad news for Canada, which sees many cruise passengers in its Victoria and Vancouver ports under normal circumstances.

If passed, the bill — which is more extreme than the Tribal Tourism Sovereignty Act put forth by Congressman Don Young (R-AK) over the summer — would also allow travelers with criminal records to cruise to Alaska permanently on itineraries that don’t call on Canadian ports.

Currently, most major cruise lines — including the two most prominent players, Princess and Holland America, as well as Norwegian, Carnival and Celebrity — have restarted sailings in the state. They are adhering to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for passenger vaccination, mask-wearing, social distancing and testing.

Featured photo by John Elk/Getty Images.

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