Alaska Senator introduces bill to permanently allow cruise ships to sail to Alaska without stopping in Canada

Versie Dortch

A new bill aims to permanently circumvent U.S. cabotage laws so that cruise ships can always visit Alaska without needing to stop in Canada.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced on Wednesday she will introduce a new bill to Congress that would permanently allow foreign flagged cruise ships to sail to Alaska without having to stop in Canada by creating a permanent exemption from the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA).

At the onset of the global health crisis, Canada banned cruise ships from its waters, and that meant in 2021 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) began allowing cruise ships to sail again, cruises to Alaska were still not possible due to the PVSA.

Senator Murkowski wants this bill to become law to prevent the same situation that happened in 2020 and early 2021 from ever happening again, where Canada’s ban on cruise ships greatly impacted Alaska’s economy.

“While the PVSA is well-intentioned to protect American jobs and businesses, it had the unintended consequence of putting Alaskan businesses at the mercy of the Canadian government. It nearly wiped out Southeast Alaskan economies as we saw business after business ready to welcome visitors, but unable to because Canadians would not respond to our requests to allow foreign stops at their ports to meet the requirement of PVSA. We cannot let that happen again,” said Senator Murkowski. 

Foreign flagged cruise ships (which are all of Royal Caribbean’s ships) are required to make a stop in a foreign port when sailing roundtrip from the United States.

The law is part of the Passenger Vessel Service Act (PVSA) of 1886, and if left in place, cruises to Alaska from Seattle, Washington would not be able to legally sail.

The justification for both the PVSA is to protect the U.S. Merchant Marine (the licensed (officers) and documented (trades) personnel on the ships) and to protect U.S. shipyards that both build and repair the ships.

Senator Murkowski believes while the still serves its purpose in the Lower 48, it became readily apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic that Alaska needed an exemption due to Canada closing its borders. 

She will introduce the legislation next week, which would permanently exempt Alaskan cruises carrying more than 1,000 passengers from the PVSA.

“Bottom line, we need to reform the PVSA so that Alaskans’ ability to engage in commerce isn’t derailed by the government of another country.”

This is not the first time a bill like this has become law.

Senator Murkowski along with Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) managed to get a bill passed earlier this year to provide temporary relief from the PVSA for just this year in the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act. That bill passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Joe Biden in May 2021.

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