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Cruise operations in Alaska are approaching revival following the passage of legislation in both chambers of Congress Thursday that would allow ships to temporarily bypass Canadian ports.
Current U.S. law bars foreign cruise ships from sailing directly from one U.S. port to another, forcing many Alaska-bound ships to stop in Canada. Covid-19 restrictions have caused Canada to prohibit cruise ships from anchoring in its waters.
The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (H.R. 1318) would allow cruise ships traveling between Washington state and Alaska to skip the requirements of the Passenger Vessel Services Act until Canada reopens its ports. The bill would expire either when Canada lifts its restrictions or by March 31, 2022. The legislation passed after debate over including safety standards and considering a permanent change to the law slowed the measure’s passage in the Senate.
“Our friends in Canada could have helped us here when we really needed them, and it’s unfortunate that they ultimately did not,” Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a cosponsor of the Senate legislation, said. “2021 will not be the robust cruise ship season we have had in previous years, or was forecasted this year before the pandemic hit, but there will be ships, and there will be people, and that is excellent for Alaska.”
Alaska’s economy has been “really hammered” by the pandemic and faces huge challenges because of the decline of the tourism industry, Sullivan said on the floor after the bill passed. The measure gives the industry and small businesses in Alaska that are “hanging by a thread a fighting chance this summer,” he said.
The House passed the legislation by unanimous consent Thursday with an amendment from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) that rewrote the measure to match a bill (S. 593) the Senate passed by voice vote on May 13. The Senate cleared the House version for the president on Thursday.
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) said that last year his state lost billions of dollars because of the pandemic harm to the tourism industry. Young has been given assurances from the White House that it will be signed into law as soon as Thursday, Zack Brown, communications director for Young, said.
The legislation will give Alaska and its tourist industry “an opportunity to recover,” Young said on the House floor after the bill passed.
This bill “solves one-half of the puzzle,” and now it’s up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to act decisively and promulgate the guidance the industry needs to set sail for Alaska,” the congressman said in a statement.
After previously issuing a no-sail order, the CDC released new guidance this month with requirements and recommendations for ships seeking to navigate in U.S. waters.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org