Alaska delegation tries multi-pronged effort to save part of cruise season

The cruise ship Noordam brought close to 2,000 passengers to Haines on Sept. 20, 2017. It and other ships carried more than 1 million passengers this summer, helping increase the region’s tourism economy. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)
The cruise ship Noordam in 2017. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Alaska’s congressional delegation is trying to salvage this year’s cruise-ship season by proceeding on two fronts: Getting the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to loosen up, and solving the Canada problem.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the CDC has only issued partial guidelines for how sailings can resume, and they don’t work for Alaska’s smaller cruise towns.

“The requirements are so limiting that it’s not possible for a small community like Skagway that doesn’t have a hospital,” she said. “And this is in spite of the assurances that the industry has given in terms of vaccination for crew and for passengers, all the protocols that they would be putting in place. So this has been no end of frustration.”

The other front in the battle is international. Major cruise ships can’t sail between the Lower 48 and Alaska without a stop in British Columbia. But Canada isn’t allowing it.

Murkowski says that could change. She says ships only have to make a “technical stop” in B.C.

“It would not be a situation where you would be in a position where you’re introducing the virus to anywhere in Canada. So I believe that is workable,” she said.

Publicly, Canada has not shown any willingness to allow technical stops. 

RELATED: As summer approaches, Alaska leaders are making continued efforts to salvage cruise tourism

Another solution to the Canada problem is to pass the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act, a bill the Alaska delegation introduced temporarily allowing cruise ships to skip the Canada stop. 

But it requires carving an exception into the Passenger Vessel Safety Act for the pandemic, and even that temporary change makes lawmakers from shipbuilding states uneasy. The act was designed to protect American shipyards by banning foreign vessels from transporting passengers from one domestic port to another. All the major cruise liners that sail to Alaska are restricted by it.

The Tourism Recovery bill hasn’t moved forward in either the House or Senate since its introduction last month, and hasn’t attracted any sponsors beyond the Alaska delegation.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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