Alaska legislators are begging officials in Washington to temporarily suspend a law that could halt this year’s cruise season.
The Canadian government has said it will not accept cruise ships carrying more than 100 people in its ports through February 2022.
This declaration effectively sinks Alaska’s cruise season, thanks to an arcane shipping law called the Passenger Vessel Services Act, better known as the Jones Act.
The law prevents foreign-flagged vessels, which many cruise ships are, from beginning and ending voyages in U.S. ports. Cruise vessels navigate around this law by starting in Canada or stopping there along the way.
The PVSA is the law that applies to passenger vessels. The Jones Act, which outdates the PVSA, applies to cargo ships.
Alaska House Republicans have sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation asking them to introduce legislation suspending the PVSA for the summer. Copies of the resolution will also go to the White House.
“Alaskans cannot weather another year without tourism,” House Rep. Tom McKay (R-Anchorage) said in a press release.
“Washington needs to hear from the people of this state.”
The pending resolution, however, cannot be introduced until the state House organizes. For weeks, the body has been locked at 20 Republicans and 20 coalition members, which includes Democrats, independents and Kodiak Republican Louise Stutes.
“We can’t just express displeasure over the Canadian government’s decision,” McKay said. “We need to take immediate action.”
Kodiak was slated to receive nine cruise ships this summer, all of which exceeded the 100-person limit. The biggest summer for cruise ships here came in 2019, when 26 vessels docked in Kodiak.
Other cities in Southeast Alaska, however, typically welcome hundreds of boats every summer. Job counts in the leisure and hospitality business in Alaska last summer were down 15,000 from the summer of 2019.
“A temporary waiver or exemption to the PVSA for cruise ships would help mitigate this continued job and revenue loss, and help provide major relief to an industry that employs people from Ketchikan to Nome, and whose economic impacts span across every region of our state,” the House letter said.
“For businesses that depend on tourism and cruise ship visitors, the possibility of
another year without any large ships docking in Alaska’s ports is dire, and many will not be able to survive.”
Don Young, Alaska’s U.S. House member, has written his own letter to the Biden administration, imploring it to help make the cruise season work.
He did not ask for the PVSA to be suspended, but instead for the administration to work with Canada to allow cruise vessels to enter its ports.
“The unavailability of Canadian ports would prevent access by non-coastwise-qualified vessels to a ‘nearby foreign port,’ which allows such vessels to provide PVSA-compliant cruise itineraries to Alaska,” Young wrote.
“As a result, I request the Biden Administration support in any conversations with the Canadian government to encourage them to work with us to come up with a solution that will allow for a 2021 Alaska cruise season.”