Alaskan Delegation Responds to Canada’s Cruise Ship Ban

Alaska's elected representatives respond to Canada's cruise ship ban
A visit to Glacier Bay is a highlight on an Alaska cruise (Princess Cruises photo)

Published Feb 10, 2021 3:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

Alaska’s elected officials responded to Canada’s year-long ban on large cruise ships and pleasure crafts by calling the action “unexpected” and “unacceptable” due to the extensive damage it would cause to the state’s economy and the dangers to their residents. Expressing their disappointment in the decision they joined with the cruise industry and said they would explore what actions could be taken.

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young, all elected to represent Alaska, released a joint statement saying, “As the state with the most extensive shared border with Canada, the Alaska Delegation has worked in good-faith to seek compromise over border crossing restrictions due to COVID-19, keeping in mind the health and safety of Alaskans and Canadians … is not only unexpected—it is unacceptable—and was certainly not a decision made with any consideration for Alaskans or our economy. We expect more from our Canadian allies.”

Saying that his country needed to protect the welfare of its citizens and focus on fighting the pandemic, Canadian Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra extended the ban on cruise ships carrying more than 100 passengers from Canadian waters until February 28, 2022. Under the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) foreign-flag cruise ships are barred from carrying American passengers between U.S. ports without a foreign port call. The popular cruises to Alaska either depart Seattle, visiting Canadian ports, or sail from Vancouver, both of which itineraries are now effectively blocked for the large cruise ships.

The Alaska delegation went on to say, “Upon hearing the announcement, we immediately reached out to Canadian and American agencies to try to understand the rationale behind this decision—particularly the duration of the ban. We are exploring all potential avenues, including changing existing laws, to ensure the cruise industry in Alaska resumes operations as soon as it is safe. We will fight to find a path forward.”

The cruise industry was also surprised by the scope of Canada’s actions. The trade group Cruise Lines International Association issued a statement. “While we understand and support the government’s focus on combating COVID-19 in Canada, we are surprised by the length of the extension of the prohibition of cruise,” said Charlie Ball, Chair of CLIA - North West & Canada. “We stand ready to work with Canadian health and transportation officials to operationalize a path forward.”

Two courses of action were raised as a possibility, including Canada permitting the large cruise ships to make technical calls without passengers going ashore, or a waiver of the PVSA. Canada reportedly said that the concept of technical calls has not been discussed. A waiver would require an act of the U.S. Congress, which is thought to be unlikely to act especially in time to save the 2021 Alaska and Canada cruise season.

Speaking to the media last week as an Alaskan native and representative of the small cruise ship industry, Dan Blanchard, CEO of UnCruise Adventures, said that he would support a brief, temporary waiver and would share his views with the small cruise ship industry. UnCruise, as an American company with U.S. flagged ships that carry less than 100 passengers, is exempt from the ban and plans to have six of its cruise ships sailing in Alaska this summer. Speaking as an Alaskan, Blanchard was emotional over the hardships the ban would place on Alaska and its small businesses that depend on the summer tourist from the cruise ships. So far, the large cruise lines have not responded publicly to Canada’s ban on their operations.

Last fall, the Alaskan delegation also called on Canada to relax travel restrictions and border controls for Alaskans. They cited the many residents, elderly and with medical conditions, who travel south through Canada to access medical facilities and the warmer climate. They had called for an exception for non-discretionary, essential travel permitting Alaskans to transit south for the winter.