CBJ to seek U.S. Attorney’s advice on cruise ship tendering practices

Local longshoremen have raised concerns about cruise ship crewmembers tying up tender boats like the orange one seen in this photo from last summer. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The City and Borough of Juneau will seek input from the U.S. Attorney’s office on whether the practice of having cruise ship crewmembers tie up tender boats to CBJ docks exposes the city to potential lawsuits.

Tender boats are the small vessels that shuttle passengers between a cruise ship, anchored off shore, and the city’s lightering dock downtown.

In March, local members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union came to the Assembly Human Resources Committee with concerns about allowing cruise ships workers to tie the boats up. The longshoremen argue the practice is unsafe and may violate U.S. labor laws.

Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl sits on the Human Resources Committee.

“The question it raised, which we discussed at the Human Resources Committee, was whether the city is satisfied from a risk management standpoint that the employment laws are being followed,” Kiehl said.

The committee asked CBJ Port Director Carl Uchytil to look into the issue. He consulted with two cruise industry groups and determined the practice is safe. But he felt unqualified to comment on whether it violates labor laws. The industry maintains the practice is legal.

At this week’s Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting, City Attorney John Hartle suggested asking Juneau-based Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt to investigate.

“It’s within Mr. Schmidt’s U.S. Attorney’s jurisdiction to do so,” said Hartle. “We have various factual allegations, which I have no idea what’s correct and what’s not correct. And that’s my suggestion.”

The assembly agreed with the recommendation, though Hartle warned that Schmidt could choose not to answer the request.

Schmidt told KTOO Tuesday that he would have to see the request before deciding how to respond.