U.S. Senate Passes Bill to Remove Obstacle to 2021 Alaska Cruising

The United States Senate on Thursday passed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, which would allow foreign-flagged cruise ships to temporarily sail between U.S. ports without a foreign port call, as is currently required by U.S. law, specifically the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) 

The bill was sponsored by U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. Companion legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Congressman Don Young. All three represent Alaska. 

Now, the U.S. House of Representatives must act on the legislation. If passed by that body, the legislation would go to President Joe Biden for his signature. If the bill makes it through these additional steps, some of summer 2021’s Alaska cruise season possibly could be salvaged. 

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) provided this statement: "We congratulate Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan for passing PVSA waiver legislation in the U.S. Senate, and for all their efforts to help save the Alaska cruise season. Our members hope to return this summer and to help put Alaskan communities back to work."

Canadian Cruise Ban

Canada’s current ban on all cruise ship calls at Canadian ports makes operating an Alaska season in 2021 virtually impossible.

The Senate's draft legislation listed 51 ships that could be covered under the temporary legislation to provide the ability for ships to operate between U.S. ports without that foreign port call. Those ships ranged from Norwegian Bliss to Carnival Miracle, from Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam to Royal Caribbean International’s Serenade of the Seas, as well as some smaller vessels, too.

Cruise ship port calls could help alleviate 2021’s significant economic hardship for Alaska businesses. More than 23,000 jobs in Alaska depends on cruise tourism. Big ships, in particular, bring tens of thousands of visitors to Alaskan communities such as Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Seward and so on.

The bill is designed as a temporary fix and would be valid only until Canada removes its cruise ship ban.

Passage of the legislation and the president’s signature, however, doesn’t mean all those ships will “start up” in Alaska this summer. Some ships were repositioned elsewhere for replacement summer 2021 voyages. For example, Holland America's Eurodam will operate voyages within Greek waters. That said, Holland America Line’s Gus Antorcha still wants to salvage some part of the 2021 Alaska cruise season.

Under the U.S. Senate legislation, any ship restarting service would still be required to comply with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) regulations. This includes securing approval of a Conditional Sail Order, a complex process that could involve simulated voyages or a high degree of guest (98 percent) and crew (95 percent) vaccinations. In addition, cruise lines say it could take 60 or more days to get a ship ready to operate. Cruise lines operating these ships would also have to comply with any future guidance or restrictions of the CDC.

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