Canada Bans Big-Ship Cruising Through February 28, 2022

Putting a squash on 2021 Alaska summer cruise departures from Vancouver, as well as North American fall foliage voyages, the Government of Canada will ban all cruise ships carrying more than 100 passengers from operating in all Canadian waters through February 28, 2022. It will also ban pleasure craft in Canadian Arctic waters through that date. 

The announcement, which extended interim orders set to expire this month, was made by Omar Alghabra, Canada's minister of transport. The government's press release said that those not complying with the passenger vessel prohibition could be liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to $1 million or to imprisonment for a term of up to 18 months, or both.

In the press release, the Canadian government said it "continues to monitor the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it is having on the marine and tourism sectors. Keeping Canadians and transportation workers safe and healthy are top priorities for Transport Canada."

In addition, that release bluntly stated: "Cruise vessels in Canadian waters pose a risk to our health care systems."

Alghabra said that as "Canadians continue to do their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19, our government continues to work hard to ensure Canada’s transportation system remains safe. Temporary prohibitions to cruise vessels and pleasure craft are essential to continue to protect the most vulnerable among our communities and avoid overwhelming our health care systems. This is the right and responsible thing to do.”

What's Banned?

The newly announced interim orders said: 

  • Adventure-seeking pleasure craft are still prohibited from entering Arctic waters
  • Passenger vessels carrying more than 12 people are still prohibited from entering Arctic coastal waters, including Nunatsiavut, Nunavik and the Labrador Coast
  • Cruise vessels carrying more than 100 people are still prohibited from operating in Canadian waters

Note that pleasure craft used by local Arctic residents will not be affected by these measures.

With these prohibitions in place, the Canadian government said that "public health authorities will be able to continue focusing on the most pressing issues, including the vaccine rollout and new COVID-19 variants." 

In addition, the government said it "continues to advise Canadian citizens and permanent residents to avoid all travel on cruise ships outside Canada until further notice."

The interim orders sizably impact the cruise industry's operations, and essentially shuts down big-ship cruising from such ports as Quebec City or Vancouver, which is—along with Seattle—one of the two top ports for Alaska summer cruise ships departures. 

Jones Act Requirement

The issue for the cruise industry is that the so-called Jones Act, originally passed by the U.S. Congress to protect the U.S. maritime industry, does not permit foreign flagged vessels—which most of the big ships are—to operate itineraries between U.S. ports without one foreign port call. 

So, Alaska cruises often depart from Vancouver or call at Victoria to meet that requirement. Without a stop in a Canadian port, foreign-flagged ships cannot sail from the continental U.S. to Alaska. They also can't sail only within Alaska, such as a roundtrip from Juneau or Seward. 

Small Ships Not Impacted

The Canadian action this week does not impact smaller ships certified to carry 100 or fewer people. The Canadian government said that they must instead follow provincial, territorial, local and regional health authority protocols for timelines and processes around their operations.

It also does not impact American-flagged carriers, among them American Cruise Lines, UnCruise Adventures and others, which will still be able to operate in Alaska this summer. Their U.S.-flagged, small-ship vessels are not subject to that onerous Jones Act requirement, so the ships can legally sail between U.S. ports.

The Canadian interim orders this week also don't affect what the government considers "essential passenger vessels," such as ferries and water taxis. Instead, they'll continue to follow local public health guidance and protocols, and follow mitigation measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and prevent future outbreaks.

The Government of Canada said it will continue to evaluate the situation and make changes as necessary to ensure the health and safety of all Canadians. "Should the COVID-19 pandemic sufficiently improve to allow the resumption of these activities, the Minister of Transport has the ability to rescind the Interim Orders," the government's press release stated.

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