An Alaska congressman is seeking a temporary workaround of U.S. maritime law, and a House committee wants Canada to compromise on its extended ban on cruises which is hurting businesses from coast to coast.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, has introduced the “Alaska Tourism Recovery Act” (H.R. 1318) that would provide relief for foreign-flag cruise ships traveling between Washington state and Alaska by designating roundtrip cruises as foreign voyages.
Under the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA), the passenger vessel equivalent of the Jones Act, foreign-flag vessels must stop at a foreign port between domestic calls. But Canada last month reinforced a cruise ship ban on vessels carrying more than 100 people for another year through February 2022.
U.S.-flag tour boat companies and other tourism businesses in states like Alaska count on passengers from those ships which often start cruises in or visit Canada.
Canada’s decision “shocked Alaska's communities, and has caused significant uncertainty for our small business owners and the broader tourism economy,” said Young. The PVSA exemption would last as long as Canada’s ban. “We have made significant progress in the fight against Covid-19. Vaccinations continue to ramp up and daily cases are on the decline. By the time the 2021 cruise season typically starts, I am confident that we will be in a strong position to allow cruises to resume with proper safeguards in place.”
The American Maritime Partnership, which advocates for the domestic maritime industry, said through a spokesman that it “is hoping for a positive outcome for the citizens of Alaska and is monitoring the issue closely.”
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of representatives on the House Transportation Committee suggested Canada let cruise ships comply with U.S. maritime law by permitting stops in the country without disembarking passengers.
“Canada plays an integral role in supporting U.S. cruise-related travel and tourism in Alaska, Washington state, the Great Lakes and New England. Pre-pandemic, the cruise industry generated $2.85 billion in direct economic spending in these U.S. regions combined, including more than 53,000 jobs and $3.1 billion in wages,” the legislators said in a letter to Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s U.S. ambassador. The industry also had a significant economic impact in Canada. “By closing Canadian ports to passenger vessels for another year, the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Americans and Canadians are at risk for more job losses and further economic devastation.”
The Canadian government said cruise vessels pose a risk to its health care systems, and it will continue to evaluate the situation and make changes as necessary. If the pandemic improves, the order can be rescinded. Smaller ships certified to carry 100 or fewer people are allowed and must follow local health protocols.
Operators who don’t comply could face fines of up to $1 million or up to 18 months in prison or both.