After first coronavirus case in town, Haines assembly says no to cruise ships until further notice

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 brought close to 2,000 passengers to Haines on Sept. 20, 2017. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

The Haines Borough Assembly voted to ask cruise lines to suspend visits to Haines until further notice. The decision comes after the community discovered its first confirmed case of COVID-19 this week.

The local Emergency Operations Center, a group that was created to guide the community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, recommended putting a pause on cruise ship visits. Borough Clerk Alekka Fullerton serves on the EOC. She said the potential economic benefits of cruise tourism are not worth the health risks.

“If we were going to get a big economic hit from this, then the risk might be worth it,” Fullerton said. “But the problem is, there’s not going to be a tangible economic jump from the small cruise ships coming to town because so many tour operators are not functioning right now. There’s a lot of stores that aren’t open.”

Fullerton had concerns about the additional burden that would be placed on local medical services if they had to respond to emergencies related to cruise passengers.

The Haines Emergency Operations Center scheduled a town hall for Wednesday evening to collect feedback from the community regarding COVID-19. The EOC’s incident commander Carolann Wooton said the goal was to gauge how residents feel about the health risks and economic impacts of the coronavirus.

“We’re hoping that the community will help us come to some kind of consensus. Is it going to be perfect? Probably not. But we have to decide as a community what kind of risk we can handle,” Wooton said.

According to Haines Tourism Director Stephen Auch, American Cruise Lines is the only cruise line that has expressed interest in visiting Haines this summer.

The cruise line sails small ships with less than 250 passengers, so its voyages are exempt from the no sail order that was issued by the CDC earlier this spring.

American Cruise Lines has postponed trips to Haines until the end of July. The cruise line scheduled a total of ten calls to Haines over the course of the summer.

KHNS - Haines

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