TROUBLED WATERS

Alaska Congressman Introduces Law Allowing Cruise Ships to Permanently Bypass BC
Canada had banned cruising in Canadian waters in 2021

Cruise ship by Canada Place in Vancouver, BC
Cruise ship by Canada Place in Vancouver, BC.

This is exactly what the British Columbia cruise industry feared might happen.

Don Young, a politician from Alaska, has introduced legislation in the U.S. Congress that would allow cruise ships to permanently skip over B.C. ports en route to Alaska.

In MAY, under pressure from the cruise industry and in particular from Alaska, American President Joe Biden signed a law allowing ships to bypass Canada, which had banned cruising in Canadian waters until 28FEB 2022.

The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act had passed unanimously in both Congress and the Senate – an astonishing display of bipartisanship in the polarized American political environment.

But bypassing Canada was supposed to be temporary.

A White House statement on 24MAY confirmed: “The President signed into law: H.R. 1318, the “Alaska Tourism Restoration Act,” which temporarily allows foreign-flagged cruise ships to sail directly from Washington State to Alaska without having to dock in Canada first until either the date on which Canada lifts restrictions prohibiting cruise ships from docking in its waters due to the COVID-19 pandemic or March 31, 2022.”

That allowed the Alaska cruise season to operate in 2021. Now that it’s wrapping up, stakeholders are looking to the future.

In JUL the Canadian federal government moved up the date that its ban on cruising in Canadian waters would be lifted, announcing that cruising in Canada can now restart on 01NOV this year.

It was a symbolic move, as in reality, cruising in Canada only takes place from spring to fall.

However, the announcement was considered significant because it would allow operators to plan for a full 2022 season, and especially for cruise lines to have confidence enough in Canada as a 2022 cruise destination to solidify plans and itineraries.

That gesture seems not to have been reassuring enough.

Global News reports that Young, in an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun this week, said the pandemic “exposed critical vulnerabilities” in Alaska’s cruise economy.

“Upon the expiration of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, Canada will once again have de facto veto authority over Alaska’s cruise industry. As a result, we must reform the PVSA to protect the sovereignty of our tourism economy,” Young said.

“In the future, we cannot allow such a vital portion of our economy to be held hostage by a foreign country, in this case, Canada.”

The Passenger Vessels Services Act (PVSA) prohibits foreign-flagged cruise ships from sailing between U.S. ports without a foreign port of call. That’s translated into cruises to Alaska being required to originate or call in ports on Canada’s West Coast.

The new legislation Young proposes would permanently eliminate that risk.  It would allow ports or land owned by “Tribes or Alaska Native Corporations to satisfy the Passenger Vessel Services Act’s  foreign stop requirement.”

That has cruise industry stakeholders in B.C. worried. As Open Jaw has reported, the cruise ship industry contributes $2.5 billion to the B.C. economy.

B.C. Premier John Horgan is trying to reassure cruise stakeholders in that province, saying he had a “positive meeting” with Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski earlier in the cruise season, and that cruise pax “love” B.C. ports of call.

“We are very actively engaging with the industry making sure they are seeing Vancouver and Victoria,” and the B.C. coast as vital components of any cruise to Alaska, he told media.

Lynn Elmhirst

Editor

With a background in broadcast news and travel lifestyles TV production, Lynn is just as comfortable behind or in front of the camera as she is slinging words into compelling stories at her laptop. Having been called a multi-media ‘content charmer’, Lynn’s other claim to fame is the ability to work 24/7, forgoing sleep until the job is done. Documented proof exists in a picture of Lynn at the closing celebrations of an intense week, standing, champagne in hand - sound asleep. That’s our kind of gal.

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