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U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has officially introduced new legislation today to provide a permanent exemption from the Passenger Vessel Services Act for foreign-flagged cruises to Alaska.
The Cruising for Alaska’s Workforce Act apply to ships transporting more than 1,000 passengers to Alaska from the United States, namely the West Coast. Interestingly, Senator Murkowski says the waiver will end once there is a U.S.-built ship that carries more than 1,000 passengers, an apparent dig to the fact that domestic operators operate only smaller ships on the trade. Murkowski says the bill will support U.S. shipbuilders and Alaska’s tourism industry, citing numbers that the state hosted over 1.3 million visitors by way of cruise ships in 2019.
The Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 requires that foreign passenger vessels stop in a foreign destination while traveling between two U.S. points. For Alaska-bound cruises operated by the world’s largest cruise companies like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, who do not register their vessels in the United States, this has meant stopover in Canada for its West Coast-based ships.
The PVSA has become a hot topic during the COVID-19 pandemic with Canada banning passenger vessels from its waters through February 2022 to stem the spread of the virus, a move that has complicated the return of cruises to one of the hottest cruise destinations in the country even as operators awaited CDC approval to sail.
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In May, Congress passed bipartisan legislation also introduced by Senator Murkowski, known as the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA), to temporarily waive the PVSA for the extent of the Canadian ban, although calls have continued for the law to be struck down altogether or modified to allow exemptions for things like large passenger vessels or the U.S. build requirement.
“A few months ago, we were able to move the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act over the finish line, providing a temporary legislative fix to the PVSA to help bring tourism back to a number of Alaskan communities that rely on the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to the state by way of cruise ships. While the PVSA still serves its purpose in the Lower 48, it unintentionally put many Alaskan businesses at the mercy of the Canadian government when Canada closed its borders, including ports,” said Senator Murkowski.. “The inability for cruises to travel to Alaska nearly wiped out our economies in Southeast—communities like Skagway for example saw an 80 percent drop in business revenues,” said Senator Murkowski.
Earlier this month, Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas, which is registered in the Bahamas, became the first large cruise ship to return to Alaska with passengers since the 2019 cruise season. Senator Murkowski was on hand to welcome the ship, saying its arrival marked “an important step toward Alaska’s road to economic recovery.”
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy earlier this year attributed a $3 billion economic impact for each season cruising to the state is suspended.
“I’m proud to introduce new legislation to provide a permanent exemption for cruises between any U.S. port and Alaska from the PVSA. My new bill guarantees the PVSA will not intrude on Alaska’s tourism economy, while also ensuring foreign-built ships do not compete with U.S.-built ships. This legislation is good news for every Alaskan whose livelihood relies on tourism,” Senator Murkowski said.
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