End of Canada ban on cruise ships comes into effect

Canada’s ban on large cruise ships entering its ports, implemented in March 2020, ended as of November 1st.

However, Canada’s federal government is continuing to advise its citizens against travel aboard cruise ships.

The decision was first announced by Canadian Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra in July 2021. The move is somewhat moot in the short-term, as nearly all of the Canadian cruise season has ended for the year. The last of the cruise ships operating to Alaska completed their cruises in mid-October. Cruises to Canada’s Atlantic maritime provinces in 2021 were cancelled due to the restrictions.

The Canadian ban caused some problems for ships leaving US ports, as a move directly from one US port to another would technically have brought the vessels under the purview of the Passenger Vessel Services Act.

In addition to impacting the large cruise ships, the ban, along with other travel restrictions, disrupted some ferry services.

The federal government continues to advise citizens to avoid travel on cruise ships until further notice. The advisory stated that it was “unlikely that there would be a government-organized repatriation flight to return to Canada,” in the advent of a Covid-19 outbreak or travellers becoming ill”.

Minister Alghabra said that the decision to shorten the cruise ban so that it would end on November 1st (in February 2021 it had been extended for 12 months, through to February 2022), was to aid the cruise lines in planning their 2022 cruise operations. More than 600 cruise ship visits have been scheduled for 2022 in Vancouver and Victoria.

Some wondered if the end of the ban was a political attempt to defuse efforts in the US Congress that had called for a permanent exemption for Alaska cruises from the cabotage rules that effectively required international cruises leaving the US to call at a Canadian port before they called at a port in Alaska. The Passenger Vessel Services Act dates back to 1886; it requires foreign ships carrying American passengers to visit a foreign port on cruises scheduled to begin and end in the US.

Led by the Alaskan delegation that was successful in gaining the 2021 exemption, new legislation has been proposed to extend the exemption, making it possible for the major cruise ships to operate directly from the US ports to Alaska.