Canada has closed its ports to large cruise ships until July 1 in response to the spread of coronavirus. The restriction applies to vessels carrying 500 people or more.
Legal experts say these restrictions will have a direct effect on Alaska cruise itineraries.
That’s because century-old U.S. maritime laws prohibit international cruise ships from carrying U.S. citizens between American ports like Seattle and Skagway.
“A foreign-flag vessel must stop in a foreign country,” said Joe Geldhof, a Juneau attorney with experience of the cruise industry. “If Vancouver and Victoria are closed, foreign flag cruise ships are going to have an enormous problem with participating in the Alaska trade.”
At least 30 cruise ships and hundreds of port calls across the state will be affected.
“Obviously, anyone would analyze it and look and figure that that will affect some early season cruising in Southeast Alaska,” said Kirby Day, who manages port operations in Juneau for Princess Cruises and Holland America Line.
This comes as the industry’s main trade group CLIA announced that major cruise lines are suspending operations at U.S. ports over the next 30 days.
“Things are moving so fast that they’re looking at a variety of opportunities or options at this point,” Day said. “It’s difficult to speculate now.”
Cruise visitors were projected to pump a lot of money into Alaska’s economy — economists say nearly $800 million.
“This is going to be a tremendous impact to all of us across Southeast Alaska,” said Meilani Schijvens of Rain Coast Data in Juneau. “Because it’s those dollars, but it’s also the multiplier effect of those dollars, and those dollars not going into city coffers and supporting municipalities in terms of providing sales tax revenue to our communities.”
She said cruise ships account for 90% of tourism in Southeast Alaska. June, July and August are peak months.
As schools and public buildings close over efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, Alaska communities have seen groceries and household items fly off the shelves as public health experts advise people to stock at least two weeks of provisions.
Shipping executives say the supply chain to Alaska isn’t expected to be affected by public health precautions.
“We are telling people it is business as usual — and to wash their hands,” said Cory Baggen, vice president of Samson Tug & Barge in Sitka. The shipper shares space with Alaska Marine Lines barges to supply goods and heavy freight to coastal communities.
Alaska Marine Lines sent an email to its customers Friday morning saying its barges will continue to run normal schedules.
This story has been updated.