Alaska Cruises Set to Resume as Congress Passes Bill to Waive Passenger Vessel Services Act
Cruises to Alaska are set to resume this summer after Congress passed a bill waiving the U.S. law that normally requires foreign flag cruises sailing between Washington and Alaska to stop in Canada.
The legislation comes in response to a Canadian ban on passenger vessels which was first in March 2020 in response to COVID-19. The ban is currently scheduled to stay in place until February 28, 2022.
The bipartisan Alaska Tourism Restoration Act provides a temporary waiver of the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886, which prohibits foreign-flagged passenger vessels from sailing to between two U.S. ports without first stopping at a foreign destination. For many Alaska-bound cruises departing from Seattle, this has meant a stopover in Canada.
The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives without objection on Thursday and it is now headed to the President’s desk for signing. The temporary waiver will stay in place until the Canadian ban is lifted.
“COVID-19 has devastated Alaska’s tourism industry. After missing the 2020 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Alaskans across the state have been feeling fear, anxiety, and uncertainty over whether or not their jobs—their livelihoods—could survive another cancelled cruise ship season,” said U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who led the bill in the Senate.
While the bill won’t save the Alaska’s entire summer cruise season, it will at least salvage some of what remains.
“Thanks to bipartisan cooperation of Congress and the unrelenting advocacy of Alaska’s delegation, our state is open for business and poised to welcome cruise ship passengers this summer. 2021 will not be the robust cruise ship season we have had in previous years, or was forecasted this year before the pandemic hit, but there will be ships, and there will be people, and that is excellent for Alaska,” said Rep. Don Young (R-AK).
In 2019, the Alaskan cruise industry generated $1.3 billion in economic impact and 23,000 jobs, according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
In anticipation of the bills passing, Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise group, announced Thursday plans to resume Alaska-bound sailings departing from Seattle in July for its bands Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Carnival Cruise Line, based on recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control?and Prevention (CDC). Carnival Corp. said the Alaska cruises will be available to guests who have received their final dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to departure.
As maritime expert and former merchant mariner Dr. Sal Mercogliano notes in a recent article here, the Passenger Vessel Services Act wouldn’t be a problem if major cruise operators like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line registered their vessels in the United States rather than a foreign country, similar to smaller American cruise operators like American Cruise Lines, Alaskan Dream, and UnCruise Adventures who operate U.S. coastwise-qualified vessels that do not fall under the PVSA requirement.
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