Alaska’s effort to allow international cruise ships to bypass B.C. ports on the way from Seattle to Ketchikan has B.C. worried about losing its main cruise tourism, even after international travel emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With all adults now able to get COVID-19 vaccines in her state, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski is attempting to save her state’s 2021 cruise ship season with a bill to suspend 19th century U.S. legislation requiring foreign-flagged passenger vessels to stop in another country between American ports. Her bill is in response to Canada’s decision to ban cruise ships until March 2022, or until the Canadian government allows them to dock.
Opposition critics called on B.C. Premier John Horgan Tuesday to say what his government will do to save the cruise ship industry in B.C. from losing its core business, led by European cruise lines.
“Tourism operators are hanging on by their fingernails already and desperately looking forward to better days ahead,” Abbotsford West B.C. Liberal MLA Mike de Jong told the B.C. legislature March 23. “Those better days are now facing an entirely new challenge. What assurance has the Premier received from Alaska – Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who’s sponsoring the legislation in Congress – that rule changes allowing cruise ships to entirely bypass B.C. ports will not become permanent?”
Tourism Minister Melanie Mark said the issue is in the hands of the federal government, and the province is working with Ottawa on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and reopening borders.
“The member opposite knows full well that they have made the decision about the cruise ships,” Mark said. “The premier and our government will do the advocacy with the federal government to advocate that the borders are open. We are on the best coast. We’re on the west coast.”
B.C. Liberal jobs critic Todd Stone said the B.C. cruise ship industry employed 20,000 people before the pandemic, and a large cruise ship stopping in Vancouver represents $3 million in economic activity.
Murkowski’s bill calls on the U.S. government to temporarily “alleviate” the provision of the Passenger Vessel Services Act requiring a stop in B.C. for the popular Alaska cruises. It was passed in 1886 to protect U.S. shipping interests from foreign competition.
“Canada’s recent decision to prohibit Alaska-bound cruise ships from operating in Canadian waters creates legal hurdles that will hamstring the Alaska cruise season, creating additional economic strain on Alaska’s entire economy, especially in our southeast communities,” Murkowski said in a statement announcing the legislation. It follows a letter she wrote to to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in February, urging Canada to work with Alaska to preserve the industry.