Alaska delegation tries multi-pronged effort to save part of cruise season

The Ovation of the Seas visiting Sitka in 2019.  (Katherine Rose/KCAW)

Alaska’s congressional delegation is trying to salvage this year’s cruise-ship season by proceeding on two fronts: Getting the CDC to loosen up, and solving the Canada problem.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says the Centers for Disease Control have only issued partial guidelines for how sailings can resume, and they don’t work for Alaska’s smaller cruise towns.

“The requirements are so limiting that it’s not possible for a small community like Skagway that doesn’t have a hospital,” she said. “And this is in spite of the assurances that the industry has given in terms of vaccination for crew and for passengers, all the protocols that they would be putting in place. So this has been no end of frustration.”

The other front in the battle is international. Major cruise ships can’t sail between the Lower 48 and Alaska without a stop in British Columbia. But Canada isn’t allowing it.

Murkowski says that could change. She says ships only have to make a “technical stop” in B.C.

“It would not be a situation where you would be in a position where you’re introducing the virus to anywhere in Canada. So I believe that is workable,” she said.

Publicly, Canada has not shown any willingness to allow technical stops.

Another solution to the Canada problem is to pass the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act, a bill the Alaska delegation introduced that would temporarily allow cruise ships to skip the Canada stop.

But it requires carving an exception into the Passenger Vessel Safety Act for the pandemic, and even that temporary change makes lawmakers from shipbuilding states uneasy. The PVSA was designed to protect American shipyards by banning foreign vessels from transporting passengers from one domestic port to another. All the major cruise liners that sail to Alaska are restricted by it.

The Tourism Recovery bill hasn’t moved forward in either the House or Senate since its introduction last month and hasn’t attracted any sponsors beyond the Alaska delegation.

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