Alaska's 2020 Cruise Season Expected to Shrink by 70 Percent

File image courtesy Holland America

Published Apr 30, 2020 6:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

Alaska's cruise industry is expecting to lose 400 voyages and 70 percent of summer season passenger traffic due to the COVID-19 shutdown, according to the Cruise Lines International Association Alaska. 

The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly hard on the cruise industry, which has been forced to suspend operations in almost all localities. Epidemiologists with the Centers for Disease Control assess that cruise ship outbreaks pose a risk of "rapid spread of the disease beyond the voyage" when passengers catch novel coronavirus on board and return to their home communities. Cruise vessel outbreaks have been tied to COVID-19 infections in Japan, Australia, Tasmania, Texas and California, and dozens of former passengers have died of the disease.

This perceived risk has compelled regulators to take action, including regulators with jurisdiction over Alaskan cruise operations. Between a voluntary suspension initiated by CLIA members, a mandatory no-sail order imposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Canada's temporary ban on large cruise ships and the Port of Seattle's decision to delay its cruise operations, the normally busy Alaska cruise season has been deferred with no firm timeline for a restart.

“It’s a little over 800,000 passengers that will not be coming up at this point,” CLIA Alaska representative Mike Tibbles in an update to the Alaska Board of Marine Pilots. According to Alaska Public Media, Tibbles acknowledged that the cruise industry would be changing its procedures in order to reopen safely. “I think everybody realizes that we’re going to have to do better . . . And we’re going to have to do business differently than what was done before," he said.

Cruise operator Hurtigruten said Thursday that its full 2020 Alaska season - with the new, battery hybrid ship Roald Amundsen - has been canceled. The Roald Amundsen’s Alaska-to-Greenland Northwest Passage voyage is also suspended. Instead, the Amundsen - like most of Hurtigruten's fleet - is returning to Europe, where she will enter a layup period.