A massive victory for Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Dan Sullivan this week in their efforts to start up cruises in Alaska. The US Senate passed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA) bill that will temporarily allow cruises to resume Alaska from US ports without stopping in Canada.
While the cruise industry and CDC have been making strides towards a resumption of cruising from the US, cruises to Alaska were still a considerable uncertainty.
Two factors that prevented the cruise lines from sailing to Alaska were the Passenger Vessel Services Act and the Canadian Cruise ship ban Interim Order No. 5. Both have now been circumvented with the Bill. However, the Bill has not yet been signed into law as it still needs to pass the US House of Representatives and be signed by President Biden.
It means that cruises to Alaska could sail simultaneously as cruises from Florida and Texas in early to mid-July, saving at least a portion of the cruise season in Alaska. An industry thousands count on for their income.
Common Sense Prevails
The Passenger Vessel Safety Act (PVSA) is a law designed to protect US shipbuilders, operators, and sailors. And to that end, the law has always worked well. In essence, it prohibits foreign vessels from sailing between US ports carrying passengers (The Jones act is the same; however, it is for cargo).
As most cruise lines are built, registered, and operated from abroad, they cannot sail between US ports (or a voyage starting and ending in a US port) without stopping in at least one foreign port first.
The Bill passed in the Senate allows vessels to temporarily bypass the PVSA and sail directly between ports in the US and start and stop voyages in the US without stopping in Canada.
Without the commonsense application of the PVSA, cruises would have sailed around the United States, except Alaska – which would have been a devastating result for Alaska’s economy, which has already been hit hard by the pandemic. The cruise industry supports more than 23.000 jobs in Alaska and provides up to $1.23 billion in direct and indirect wages each year.
In their proposal, Murkowski and Sullivan wrote the following:
“Given the extraordinary hardship we face as a result of the global pandemic, we believe this fix is both necessary and right-sized. Directing the CBP to suspend one aspect of their interpretation of PVSA review will reflect the United States’ due respect for the Canadian government’s concerns and will afford the State of Alaska a real chance for economic recovery.”
When Will Ships Sail To Alaska?
If the Bill passes through the House of Representatives and is signed by the President soon, we could see cruise ships sailing to Alaska this July. This would coincide with the return of cruises in Florida and Texas, all three states that rely on the income generated by the cruise industry.
Senator Lisa Murkowski:
“Unanimous agreement in the Senate on this bill provides certainty and opportunity for cruise companies to resume sailing to Alaska, as they have for so many years—and more importantly, helps safeguard the livelihoods of Alaskan-owned small businesses, and entire communities, that serve these cruise passengers.”
Both Senator Murkowski and Senator Sullivan spoke to the Senate after the legislation passed to urge the House to pass the Bill as soon as possible to prevent Alaskan communities from losing out on another tourism season. US Congressman Don Young (R-AK) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
For as long as the Canadian ban is in place for large cruise ships sailing with passengers between Washington and Alaska, the ATRA Bill will enable ships to bypass the PVSA.
The Canadian cruise ship ban is currently due to expire in February of next year; however, this could be extended or shortened depending on the state of COVID in Canada, creating a very uncertain situation for the cruise industry and those dependent on the ships visiting Alaska.
Cruise Lines International Association reacted to the news and said the members of the association would be looking forward to putting Alaskans back to work this summer:
Congratulations to Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan for passing PVSA waiver legislation in the US Senate today and for all their efforts to help save the Alaska cruise season. Our members hope to return this summer and to help put Alaskan communities back to work.
The only other step left after the Bill passes through all the legal steps is for the cruise lines to get permission from the CDC to sail to Alaska. However, this will fall under the same Conditional Sailing Order as cruises elsewhere and should prove to be relatively straightforward.
We will keep you updated here at Cruise Hive on all the details for sailings to Alaska, but for now, it looks positive!