US Senator, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) (pictured) has introduced new legislation to provide a permanent exemption from the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) for cruises between the Lower 48 and Alaska.
During her keynote speech at the Southeast Conference Annual Meeting in Haines, Senator Murkowski unveiled the details of her proposal.
“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.
“It nearly wiped out Southeast Alaskan economies as we saw business after business ready to welcome visitors, but unable to because Canadians would not respond to our requests to allow foreign stops at their ports to meet the requirement of PVSA. We cannot let that happen again,” she said.
“I intend to introduce legislation that will permanently exempt Alaskan cruises carrying more than 1,000 passengers from the PVSA. This legislation will create jobs for American merchant mariners in the cruise industry, and to ensure foreign-built cruise ships do not compete with US-built ships, this waiver will end once there is a US-built cruise ship that carries more than 1,000 passengers.
“We do not want to compete with US shipbuilders—that’s why this legislation ends once there is an American market. 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,” she added.
In 2019, Alaska hosted over 1.3 mill visitors on board cruise ships. This ceased in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated mandates, decimating Alaskan small businesses and the local economy overall.
For example, according to a Southeast Conference report of June, 2020, Skagway business revenue was down by 80%, compared to the same period in 2019.
The Alaskan tourism industry typically generates more than $214 mill in state and municipal revenue, more than $1.4 bill in payroll, and $2.2 bill in visitor spending—all of which saw a significant decline during the coronavirus pandemic.
Her legislation, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA), which was signed into law on 24th May, 2021, provided a temporary fix under the PVSA, and paved the way for cruise ships to resume operations and transport passengers between the US States of Washington and Alaska for the remainder of the 2021 season.
Due to the Canadian prohibition on passenger vessels sailing in its waters, large cruise ships sailing to Alaska would not have been able to operate this summer and autumn, as the PVSA requires a stop in a foreign country.
PVSA was designed to benefit American shipbuilders and seafarers and to bolster the US readiness in times of conflict.
While the PVSA still serves its purpose in the Lower 48, it became readily apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic that Alaska needed an exemption, due to Canada closing its borders, her office explained.