After creating an exemption from U.S. cabotage regulations in 2021 for large cruise ships sailing to Alaska, Senator Lisa Murkowski is now seeking to extend the exemption for large cruise ships sailing to her state. Two weeks after announcing her intention to assert that tourism in Alaska should never be controlled by Canada again, the senator introduced new legislation, the Cruising for Alaska’s Workforce Act, to grant a permanent exemption to the Passenger Vessel Services Act for large cruise ships operating between the United States and Alaska.
“While the PVSA still serves its purpose in Lower 48, it unwittingly put many Alaska businesses at the mercy of the Canadian government when Canada closed its borders, including ports. The inability of cruises to get to Alaska has nearly wiped out our economies in the Southeast – communities like Skagway, for example, have seen their commercial revenues drop by 80%, ”said Senator Murkowski. “My new bill ensures that the PVSA will not encroach on Alaska’s tourism economy, while ensuring that foreign-built ships will not compete with US-built ships. This legislation is good news for all Alaskans whose livelihoods depend on tourism. ”
The senator’s efforts in the spring were widely supported, including by the United States and the small cruise ship industry, recognizing the importance of tourism to Alaska’s economy. Before the pandemic, well over a million cruise passengers visited Alaska and the market was experiencing a resurgence, with many major cruise lines deploying their newest and largest ships to the Alaskan market.
The Passenger Ship Services Act, which dates from 1886, requires foreign registered ships carrying U.S. citizens to go to a foreign port when they are transporting Americans between two U.S. ports. Prior to 2020, major cruise lines followed cabotage restrictions when departing from Vancouver in Canada or visiting Canadian ports, including Vancouver and Victoria, on their journeys north and south to Alaska.
In 2020 and again in 2021, Canada closed its ports to all cruise ships, but the Alaskan cruise season of 2021 was saved thanks to the temporary waiver of the requirement to visit a foreign port. When the waiver was announced, many Canadian companies and ports on the west coast feared the United States would decide to make it permanent and called on the Canadian federal government to take action to prevent the loss of the cruise industry. .
The bill seeks to avoid opposition from powerful lobbies in the United States. First, the bill states that the exemption would apply only to cruise ships carrying 1,000 or more passengers. The US small-ship cruise industry has supported the temporary exemption, but is less likely to support the extension, creating additional competition once Canadian ports reopen.
Anticipating opposition from the US shipbuilding industry, the senator stressed that “this exemption will end once there is a ship built in the United States that will carry more than 1,000 passengers.” The bill includes a provision that would end the waiver within 270 days when “an American passenger vessel qualified for coastal commerce offers or advertises passenger service between a port in the State of L Alaska and another port in the United States, directly or through a foreign port. The exemption could, however, be reinstated if the American vessel ceased sailing to Alaska.