Port of Seattle Delays Start of 2020 Cruise Season Indefinitely

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Published Mar 26, 2020 8:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

This week, the Port of Seattle said that the launch of the 2020 cruise season will be delayed until the current public health emergency is resolved - an acknowledgement of the gravity and uncertainty of the coronavirus outbreak. 

“The loss and impact of these sailings will ripple through the tourism industry and our regional economy. However, we understand the Port of Seattle’s hard but necessary decision,” said Tom Norwalk, Visit Seattle president and CEO. “We appreciate the Port’s commitment to re-evaluate the 2020 cruise season as the situation evolves, and Visit Seattle will help lead the economic recovery and work in tandem with the Port of Seattle.”

The local economic effects are significant: Seattle businesses provide homeported cruise ships with goods and supplies, and cruise passengers spend time in the King County region before or after their cruise.  Each homeport sailing creates about $4 million in regional business activity, according to the port, which translates into nearly $900 million statewide over the course of the season. The industry supports an estimated 5,500 jobs in Washington. 

“We know that social distancing is our only real weapon against the COVID-19 virus. At a time when Governor [Jay] Inslee has ordered all Washingtonians to ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy,’ we must consider public health and safety above all else,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Peter Steinbrueck. “The eventual return of our cruise season is something we fully expect as an important contribution to living wage jobs, local small businesses, and our region’s economic recovery. We also recognize the critical role Seattle cruise plays in supporting the Alaska economy for over 20 years.”

The delay of Seattle’s cruise season is partly outside of the port's control. The members of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) - including all major U.S. cruise lines - have suspended their North American operations voluntarily through mid-April, with some forecasting longer closures. The CDC has issued a temporary advisory cautioning the public not to board cruise ships due to the risk of contracting coronavirus. At the state level, Washington has closed down non-essential businesses and banned large gatherings in order to limit the spread of the disease. In addition, Canada has closed its ports to large cruise ships through July 1, creating new legal hurdles for operations between Seattle and U.S. seaports in Alaska. American cabotage laws require these foreign-flag passenger ships to make at least one stop in a foreign (in this case, Canadian) port during each coastwise itinerary.