Canada Provisionally Reopens Ports to Cruise Ships Starting November

Canada plans to reopen ports to cruise ships
Canada Place in Vancouver historically was a homeport for cruises to Alaska (Port of Vancouver)

Published Jul 15, 2021 3:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

As Canada continues to make progress in its efforts against COVID-19, the federal government announced provisional plans to reopen Canadian waters to international cruise ships as of November 1, 2021. Canada had previously said its waters, ports, and Arctic region would be closed to the cruise industry until February 2022 and while the effort is too late for the current cruise season it gave hope to 2022 and possibly resuming ferry service between Canada and the U.S.

"As Canadians have done their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19, our government continues to work hard to safely restart our economy and build back better, said Omar Alghabra, a member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre and Minister of Transport for Canada. “We will welcome cruise ships, an important part of our tourism sector, back in Canadian waters for the 2022 season."

Making today’s announcement the minister said was designed to provide certainty to the cruise industry and so that the cruise lines could start planning to resume service next year. He, however, also noted that the actual resumption of cruises in Canadian waters would be dependent on the public health situation in the areas where the cruise ships would call. The federal government is also promising to work with the local health authorities to roll out specific health measures and set the standards and regulations which the cruise industry will be required to follow.

Minister Alghabra also reiterated that Canadians need to remain vigilant and continue the fight against the virus. “We continue to advise all Canadian to avoid cruise ship travel outside the country,” the minister said during the announcement. Canada’s border with the United States remains closed for non-essential travel.

Canada’s decision to close its ports for 2021 became the center of controversy as businesses dependent on tourism and cruise passengers complained of the lost revenues. The minister noted that the cruise ship industry represents more than C$4 billion annually for the Canadian economy. 

Alaska’s strong protests to the loss of the cruise industry in 2021 due to Canada’s actions resulted in the U.S. Congress passing a temporary measure to wave cabotage regulations recognizing cruises from the U.S. to Alaska as international trips while Canada’s ports remained closed. After the passage of the temporary measure, bills have also been introduced in the U.S. Congress to permanently repeal the restrictions in the Passenger Vessel Service Act that require foreign-flag cruise ships carrying U.S. passengers from a U.S. port to stop in Canada on their way to Alaska. In addition to providing assurances to the cruise industry, today’s announcement by Canada was seen as a possible move to blunt the efforts to make the changes permanent in the U.S.

Minister Alghabra admitted that today’s announcement comes too late for the large cruise ships to visit Canada in 2021. Asked during the briefing if it however meant that the cross-border ferries could resume service, the minister spoke of the need for public health measures and providing assurances to the cruise industry. Local officials were hopeful with this move that efforts could begin to plan for the restoration of the ferries.

The official announcement noted that Transport Canada will continue to work with the Public Health Agency of Canada, other levels of government, the United States government, transportation industry stakeholders, Indigenous Peoples, and Arctic communities to help ensure Canadians and Canada's transportation system remain safe and secure.