US Senate Approves Act Permitting Large Ships to Cruise to Alaska

US Senate approved bill to permit Alaska cruises
Large cruise ships would be permitted to bypass U.S. cabotage to Alaska for 2021 (file photo)

Published May 13, 2021 8:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a voice vote, the U.S. Senate this afternoon approved the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act that would permit large cruise ships to operate cruises to Alaska this summer. The act provides a waiver of the U.S. cabotage laws. The measure goes to the U.S. House for approval before it can be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The Act was a simple and direct measure that states that a roundtrip voyage transporting passengers between a port or place in the State of Alaska and a port or place in the State of Washington is deemed a foreign voyage for purposes of the law of the United States. The act remains in effect till February 2022.

The purpose of the effort was to circumvent the Canadian decision to close its ports to large cruise ships until 2022. Under the U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act, all foreign flag passenger ships are required to stop at a foreign port when transporting American citizens between two U.S. ports. The large cruise ships traditionally have sailed either from the port of Vancouver, Canada, or Seattle, Washington on their summer cruise programs to Alaska. The closure of the Canadian ports and Canada’s refusal of even technical calls, where a ship stops in the port but does not disembark passengers, was effectively blocking the cruise lines from Alaska this year.

Alaskans have been appealing for relief because of the strong impact from the loss of its summer tourism. Cruises to Alaska had been one of the most popular summer programs drawing well over one million passengers each year. Even the small cruise lines, which had not been blocked and are now beginning their summer programs to Alaska, announced that they would support a temporary waiver because of the importance of tourism to the Alaskan economy.

“This has been a struggle to get everyone pulling together, but I think we are at a place where there is a glimmer of hope for Alaska’s tourism industry,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski who along with Senator Dan Sullivan had co-sponsored the Senate bill.  Previous efforts to get the act passed had been stalled by efforts to expand its content to incorporate other safety requirements on the cruise ships.



Even with the passage of the act today by the Senate, it is far from certain that the cruise lines will be able to offer summer Alaska cruises. Most of the cruise ships are not in position for the market and the cruise lines are still struggling to come to terms with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s extensive framework for resuming even limited cruise operations from U.S. ports. 

The major cruise lines have been withdrawing plans for cruises during July citing the steps required by the CDC along with the need to restaff and restart their ships. Earlier in the week, Carnival Cruise Line had however said that while it canceling most July sailings that it was still working to find a solution that would permit ships to sail to Alaska this summer. 

Late this afternoon Senator Sullivan Tweeted, “This is an important and encouraging step, but we aren’t done yet. The Dean of the House, Representative Don Young, will next be working with his colleagues to quickly pass the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act in the House.”