Alaska Joins Florida in Lawsuit Over CDC’s Orders Affecting Cruises

Alaska sues CDC over cruise ship orders and loss of 2021 cruise season
Holland America Line was one of the cruise lines that was forced to cancel 2021 Alaska cruises (Hollamd America Line)

Published Apr 21, 2021 4:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

The state of Alaska has officially joined Florida in a lawsuit against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) challenging the Conditional Sailing Order that has so far prevented the resumption of cruises from U.S. ports. In what is being viewed by many observers as a highly political move, the states’ lawsuit charges that the order “goes beyond the scope of the CDC’s legal authority.”

“Alaska has urged the CDC to withdraw or amend its Conditional Sailing Order to allow for a cruise season in Alaska,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy in announcing that Alaska was joining the legal action. “Alaskan families and small businesses need fast action to protect their ability to work and provide for their families. We have been told to follow the science and facts. Cruise ships have demonstrated their ability to provide for the safety of passengers and crew, and Alaska has led the nation in vaccinations and low hospitalization rates. We deserve the chance to have tourism and jobs,” said Governor Dunleavy.

In filing the legal action, the states are also contending that the CDC has failed to recognize the cruise industry’s voluntary safety measures and the safe resumption of cruising in other countries. The suit contends that the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order treats the cruise industry, and the jobs and businesses that depend on tourism, differently from other travel sectors like air or rail. They also point out that the order also requires expensive and time-consuming trials for ships before they could return to service.

Alaska is also highlighting the high vaccination rate of Alaskans, the effectiveness of the vaccines against COVID-19, and the state’s low COVID-19 hospitalization rates. According to Governor Dunleavy, the cruise industry is vital to the economic health of Alaska. “Alaska has already suffered an economic loss of $3 billion due to the cancellation of the 2020 cruise ship season, and faces another (unnecessary) economic loss in 2021,” his statement says.  

The lawsuit and the governor’s statement however do not recognize Canada’s ban on large cruise ships from entering its ports before February 2022, which was largely seen as the primary factor leading to the cancellation of the 2021 cruise season in Alaska. The large, foreign-flagged cruise ships, under the U.S. cabotage regulations, must either embark American passengers in a Canadian port, such as Vancouver, or if sailing from a U.S. port, such as Seattle or San Francisco, they must visit a foreign port to comply with the regulations. The CDC’s rules governing the operation of the cruise ships are separate from the cabotage restrictions.

Previously, the Alaskan members of the U.S. Congress had proposed temporary waivers of the Passengers Vessel Services Act to permit the large cruise ships to operate Alaska cruises in 2021 without visiting Canadian ports. They also called for Canada to make accommodations, such as permitting the ships to make technical calls without passengers disembarking for their Alaska cruises in 2021.

Many observers, point out that the 2021 Alaska cruise season for the large ships is largely impossible due to the time required to pass the legislation or settled the lawsuit, and then the cruise ships would require 60 or more days before they could resume sailing. The operators of the small cruise ships and American-flagged ships, exempt from the CDC and Canadian restrictions, however, are moving forward with their 2021 cruises in Alaska.