Cruise ships could soon be sailing directly between the US states of Washington and Alaska, due to a new bill introduced to change the regulations.
Currently, foreign flag vessels must call at a Canadian port in between two US ports when cruising up the West Coast, as part of the cabotage restrictions.
US Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-Alaska) have introduced the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act to alleviate the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) rules for cruise ships transporting passengers between the States of Washington and Alaska.
Canada has prohibited cruise ships from navigating, mooring, anchoring or berthing in its waters until 28th February, 2022, or until the Canadian government lifts the prohibition.
US Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) recently introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
“Canada’s recent decision to prohibit Alaska-bound cruise ships from operating in Canadian waters creates legal hurdles that will hamstring the Alaska cruise season, creating additional economic strain on Alaska’s entire economy, especially in our Southeast communities.
“Alaskan communities are already facing severe economic hardship and uncertainty from missing one tourism season as a result of COVID-19. We have seen double-digit employment declines in Southeast and a more than 30% drop in revenue statewide. Missing another cruise season would only compound the economic fallout that has been devastating for so many families,” said Senator Murkowski.
“By providing this technical fix to the PVSA for Alaska-bound cruise ships from the State of Washington, we are taking significant steps towards safely resuming cruise ship activity and economic certainty at a time when Alaskans need it most,” he added.
“Canada’s recent decision to close its ports to passenger vessels for another year has dire implications for Alaska’s tourism industry and the hundreds of small businesses and tens of thousands of hard-working Alaskans who support it,” Senator Sullivan stressed.
“These Alaskans have already had to grapple with a lost season last year due to COVID-19. They simply can’t afford to weather another season without the tremendous economic activity that cruise ships provide to our coastal communities.
“As a delegation, when we first heard this announcement by the Canadians, we committed to pursuing all means available, including legislation, to save this tourism season. We are making good on that promise with a bill that would temporarily waive the federal requirement for foreign flagged cruise ships to stop at a Canadian port when travelling to Alaska from the Lower 48.
“We’re continuing to pursue our multiple pronged approach to tackle this issue, by working closely with the Canadian government, our own CDC and administration officials, and local Alaska leaders to address any other hurdles that could cause a delay in the 2021 tourism season,” he said.
Explaining the background, on 13th February, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and Congressman Young sent a letter to the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, urging him to work with the Alaska congressional delegation on COVID-19 travel restrictions in an effort to limit the negative impacts to Alaskan and Canadian constituents.
On 4th February, the Alaskan congressional delegation reacted to an announcement by the Canadian Minister of Transport regarding two new interim orders that ban pleasure craft in Canadian Arctic waters and cruise vessels in all Canadian waters until the end of February next year.
Earlier, in October, 2020, in an effort to address US/Canada border crossing issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, Congressman Young, and Governor Mike Dunleavy sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau to raise specific issues severely impacting Alaskans, due to border crossing restrictions on the back of COVID-19.
In their letter, the Alaskan delegation highlighted specific, persisting challenges impacting the health and safety of Alaskans, and proposed reasonable solutions.