Two Senators Introduce Cabotage Waiver for Alaskan Cruise Season

File image courtesy Royal Caribbean

Published Mar 7, 2021 10:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) have introduced a bill that would waive U.S. cabotage requirements for cruise ships operating between Washington State and Alaska. If enacted, it would remove a U.S. legal hurdle created by Canada's cruise ban. 

Due to COVID-19, Canada has extended its ban on large cruise ships until February 2022, removing port calls in Vancouver or Victoria from the itinerary for any cruise line. Those port calls are essential for all large cruise ships operating in the Alaskan market, because all are foreign-flagged and must comply with the terms of the U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA). The Act allows foreign passenger vessels to make round-trip voyages beginning and ending in the same U.S. port, so long as they call in at least one foreign port along the way; this means that these vessels need to call in Canada in order to lawfully operate a "foreign voyage" on the Seattle-to-Alaska route. 

The bill introduced by Senators Murkowski and Sullivan would alleviate this burden by waiving the requirement for foreign-flag cruise ships on the Alaska run. The bill would reclassify passenger vessel round-trip sailings between Washington State and Alaska as foreign voyages, thereby lifting the threat of fines for noncompliance. This waiver would last up until the end of February 2022 or the end of Canada's cruise ban, whichever occurs first. 

The bill immediately drew support from Royal Caribbean Cruises, which plans to have three vessels homeported in Seattle this year.

"This bill would allow cruise ships to sail to Alaska without requiring that they stop in Canada," said Michael Bayley, President & CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, in a social media post Friday. "If passed, this would represent a step in the right direction for the Alaskan communities that depend on the tourism industry. If you support the bill, please reach out to your representatives to make your voice heard!"

Though the legal status of the season is uncertain, Royal Caribbean still has Alaska sailings on its books from May 2021 onwards, and it has said that it continues to talk with Canadian and American regulators to find a workable solution.