State offers few details on efforts to bring cruise ships safely back to Alaska in 2021

The Crown Princess cruise ship parked in Haines after high winds prevented it from docking in Skagway. (Photo by Abbey Collins/KHNS)
The Crown Princess docked in Skagway in 2016. (Photo by Abbey Collins/KHNS)

A working group to reboot the cruise industry in Alaska is in the works, says Alaska’s commissioner for health and social services. But those working most closely with the cruise industry say they’re not in the loop.

At a Dunleavy administration Facebook town hall meeting on Tuesday, the moderator read aloud a question he said was from the city of Skagway: “Would the state consider forming a Southeast Alaska working group to design a vaccine strategy to enable the 2021 cruise season?”

Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum replied that those efforts are already underway.

“We’re working to actually set up a working group to address health and safety protocols for the cruise ship industry to make sure that we can get people to come to Alaska, how to enjoy it safely, to make sure that we have a successful cruise ship season,” Crum said. “So this is something that the governor’s office has already been working on.”

But as of Thursday, the agency hasn’t elaborated. That’s despite emails and calls seeking details. KHNS contacted Alaska’s cruise industry representatives, visitor bureaus and the Alaska Municipal League. All of them say they’re waiting to hear more about this working group.

Then there’s the small town of 1,200 that raised the question. Skagway is among the most popular tourist destinations in the state. Cruise ships are the heart of its economy.

“We’re patiently hoping to see some movement there,” said Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata.

Cremata says the town needs the ships back, but the remote community with no hospital needs to be vaccinated before the first cruise passenger disembarks this summer.

“In our situation, it could be the difference maker between having a community in 2022, and not having a community in 2022. So I think there’s a sense of urgency for Skagway that isn’t quite the same for larger communities that have other industries,” Cremata said.

Cremata acknowledges this is complicated. And Skagway doesn’t plan to force the vaccine on anyone. But he says it’s still incumbent upon city leaders to make sure the community is safe before it throws its doors open wide to mass tourism.

Under federal guidelines announced this winter, ports will have the ultimate say-so before giving the green-light to cruise ships returning. Already two cruise lines have suspended sailings until mid-May.

KHNS - Haines

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