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Senator Lee of Utah Introduces Bills to Repeal the Passenger Vessel Services Act

Mike Schuler
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June 11, 2021

U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) from the landlocked state of Utah has introduced legislation to permanently repeal the Passenger Vessel Services Act, calling it an outdated and protectionist law that benefits Canada and Mexico more than American workers.

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 historically meant stops in Canada for its West Coast-based ships.

The law has gained a lot of attention during the COVID-19 pandemic after Canada banned passenger vessels from its waters through February 2022 to stem the spread of the outbreak, complicating the return of cruises to Alaska, one of the hottest cruise destinations in the country, even as operators awaited CDC approval to sail.

While Congress passed surprisingly bipartisan legislation last month to temporarily waive the PVSA for the extent of the Canadian ban, Senator Lee has now introduced three bills calling 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.

“The PVSA is bad news. This arcane law benefits Canada, Mexico, and other countries who receive increased maritime traffic, at the expense of American workers in our coastal cities, towns, and ports,” said Senator Lee, whose constituency is located neither on the coast or near ports, unless you count the Great Salt Lake. “Reducing demand for jobs and travel opportunities here in the U.S. is the opposite of ‘America First.’ And in the context of ocean liners, this ‘protectionist’ law is literally protecting no one, as there hasn’t been a cruise ship built domestically in over half a century. The PVSA is bad economics and bad law, and it’s far past time that Congress reconsider it,” Lee said.

It should be noted that the PSVA does not apply to ALL Alaska cruises. For example, vessels do not fall under the PVSA if they hold a U.S. coastwise endorsement, granted to vessels built in the United States, owned and operated by Americans or American companies, and registered under the U.S. flag.

While some American cruise companies like American Cruise Lines, Alaskan Dream, and UnCruise Adventures do operate some smaller coastwise-qualified vessels in the Alaskan trade, companies like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian are incorporated in foreign countries and operate foreign ships, and therefore must abide by the PVSA’s requirements. So far, all three have announced plans to resume cruises to Alaska beginning this summer.

For what its worth, last month Senator Lee and Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) also introduced legislation to repeal the Jones Act and allow all qualified vessels to engage in domestic trade between U.S. ports.

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