U.S. Senate passes legislation to enable Alaska cruising this summer

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Juneau Alaska port [Credit: Iv Nikolny/Shutterstock.com]
Cruise ships in Juneau, Alaska. Photo Credit: Credit: Iv Nikolny/Shutterstock.com

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation that temporarily relieves cruise ships sailing in Alaska of the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) restrictions for as long as Canada's cruise ban is in place.

The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act , sponsored by Alaska's Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, only applies to large cruise ships taking passengers between the states of Washington and Alaska. The PVSA, enacted in 1886, requires foreign-flagged ships, which almost all large cruise vessels are, to stop in at least one foreign port when sailing between two U.S. destinations and is the reason Alaska cruises start or stop in Vancouver or Victoria, British Columbia.

And the ban by Canada on cruise calls or embarkations, enacted in the face of the pandemic and extended earlier this year, effectively prohibits cruises in Alaska. The ban is currently in place until Feb. 28.

"Senate passage of my legislation sends a strong signal that we will not stand idly by, withering on the vine, until another country catches up to our level of readiness," said Murkowski on the Senate floor on May 13.  "This shows that the health and restoration of our economy cannot be held up by Canada, especially since Alaska has led with vaccinations in the country and our communities are ready to welcome visitors back."

Murkowski said the bill "helps safeguard the livelihoods of Alaskan-owned small businesses, and entire communities, that serve these cruise passengers."

Sullivan and Murkowski urged the House of Representatives to swiftly pass the bill in order to prevent Alaskan communities from losing out on another tourism season. Alaska U.S. Congressman Don Young introduced companion legislation in the House.

A Wings Airways plane in Alaska.
A Wings Airways plane in Alaska.

For Alaskans, Canada's decision to extend its cruise ban into early 2022 "felt like a bomb," said Holly Johnson, president of Wings Airways and the Taku Glacier Lodge in Juneau.

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In a statement, CLIA congratulated Murkowski and Sullivan "for all their efforts to help save the Alaska cruise season. CLIA and its members hope to return this summer and help support Alaskan communities by bringing people back to work."

The legislation would terminate the PVSA waiver either when Canada drops its cruise ban, or on March 31, 2022.

The PVSA was passed in the 19th century to protect U.S. shipbuilders and operators. The last large ocean cruise ship built in a U.S. shipyard was in 1958. 

There is still a small-ship, U.S. shipbuilding industry, and many U.S.-flagged small ships operate in the U.S.

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