Cruise industry seeks waiver for large ships to sail to Alaska in 2021

Members of the US House of Representatives are attempting to find a compromise that will permit the 2021 Alaska cruise season to proceed, despite Canada’s ban on large cruise ships.

Alaska Congressman Don Young has introduced an act that would provide a waiver to the US cabotage rules. A committee has proposed permitting technical calls in Canada.

The cruise industry has already begun to cancel Canada-based cruises for 2021 after Canada announced on February 4th that it would be closing its waters in 2021 to any cruise ships accommodating more than 100 passengers.

Most plans for the US Alaska cruise season was shattered because the large cruise ships depart either from Vancouver or, when they sail from Seattle in the US, they are required under the US’s Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) to stop at a foreign port of call while transporting American citizens between US ports.

Young’s Alaska Tourism Recovery Act, introduced on February 24th, would provide a temporary PVSA workaround by deeming roundtrip voyages between Alaska and Washington State as foreign voyages for the purposes of US law.

Young said that the bill’s provisions had been designed to provide specific targeted relief for large cruise vessels trips to and from Washington State and Alaska. In addition the provisions were temporary and would only apply during the closure of Canadian waters and ports.

Young said that “the Covid-19 pandemic devastated Alaska’s 2020 cruise season; we must not allow the same to happen to 2021’s season”.

The US House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has sent a letter to the ambassador of Canada to the US, Kirsten Hillman, encouraging the government of Canada and the US to “find a mutually agreeable solution.”

The committee proposed permitting stops in Canada without disembarking passengers. “It is our hope that this solution would both address the important health concerns of Canadian authorities and allow cruises to resume with the approval of the US Government authorities when it is deemed safe to do so,” the committee letter to the ambassador said. members wrote to the ambassador.

Carnival Corporation’s cruise brands Holland America Line and Princess Cruises have already announced that that they were cancelling portions of their Alaska cruise season and Canada-New England Cruises. The two lines are the largest cruise operators in Alaska.

A third Carnival brand, Seabourn, has cancelled all its 2021 Alaska/British Columbia departures.

However, in a conference call last week Frank J. Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said that, while the company had suspended taking Alaska cruise bookings, it was  “hopeful, cautiously optimistic” that a resolution could be found.