Updated: Congress proposes solutions to Canada’s big-ship cruise ban

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The Norwegian Joy alongside the Canada Place terminal in Vancouver. Members of Congress are proposing that Canada allow ships to make port calls without disembarking as a way around the country's big-ship cruise ban.
The Norwegian Joy alongside the Canada Place terminal in Vancouver. Members of Congress are proposing that Canada allow ships to make port calls without disembarking as a way around the country's big-ship cruise ban. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

The top-ranking members of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure are asking Canada to find a way to allow cruise ships to call at Canadian ports, perhaps by permitting stops without disembarking passengers, to enable an Alaska cruise season this year.

In a letter to Kirsten Hillman, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said that Canada's decision to ban cruising through 2022, effectively killing the big-shop Alaska season, puts the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Americans and Canadians "at risk from more job losses and further economic devastation."

"As public servants, we must focus on protecting the public health and safety of citizens, while at the same time providing opportunities for economic recovery," the letter says, adding that prepandemic, the cruise industry generated $2.85 billion in direct economic spending and supported more than 53,000 jobs in the regions impacted by Canada's cruise ban (Alaska, Washington state, the Great Lakes and New England) and nearly $1.5 billion in spending and 30,000 Canadian jobs.

"Therefore, we would like to encourage the government of Canada to work with the U.S. government and industry stakeholders to find a mutually agreeable solution," the letter says. "One suggestion would be the inclusion of language in a subsequent Interim Order that enables cruise ships to meet the requirements of U.S. maritime law by permitting stops in Canada without disembarking passengers. It is our hope that this solution would both address the important health concerns of Canadian authorities and allow cruises to resume with the approval of U.S. government authorities when it is deemed safe to do so."

In a statement, CLIA thanked DeFazio and Graves "for their leadership in facilitating dialogue with the Canadian government to determine a path for resumption of cruises to Alaska should cruising resume in the U.S. this year. CLIA looks forward to working with the Canadian and U.S. authorities on a solution that addresses the public health needs of Americans and Canadians alike, while responsibly restarting a critical economic driver for the Pacific Northwest and Alaska."

Canada this month extended its ban on cruise carrying more than 100 people for one year, until February 2022. The U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) mandates that foreign-flagged ships call at at least one foreign port on any U.S. itinerary, meaning any foreign-flagged cruise ships sailings in Alaska this summer must begin or call in Vancouver or Victoria, British Columbia.

Alaska lawmakers also implored Canada to reconsider the ban, calling it "unacceptable."

A member of the Alaska congressional delegation, Rep. Don Young, this week introduced the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act, asking for a temporary "workaround" of the PVSA.

The legislation calls for "a temporary PVSA workaround by deeming roundtrip voyages between Alaska and Washington state as foreign voyages for the purposes of U.S. law. The bill's provisions are narrowly tailored to provide targeted relief for large cruise vessels trips to and from Washington state and Alaska that are the lifeblood of Alaska's summer tourism economy. Importantly, the provisions are temporary and would only apply during the closure of Canadian waters and ports."

"The Covid-19 pandemic devastated Alaska's 2020 cruise season; we must not allow the same to happen to 2021's season," Young said in a statement. "Canada's decision to close its waters effectively cancels the 2021 cruise season and cripples the industry in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest."

Updated: This report was updated on Feb. 25 to include the news of Rep. Don Young's introduction of the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act.

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