Commissioner Sola Statement on Canada’s Recent Decision to Bar All Cruise Vessels From Their Waters Until February 2022
Last September, as the Fact Finding Officer examining the COVID-19 Impact on the Cruise Industry, I released Interim Report: Economic Impact of COVID-19 on the Cruise Industry in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. My report found that perhaps more than any other state in the Nation, the cessation of cruise operations had wrought extensive hardship upon the people and economy of Alaska. An entire cruising season in the Land of the Midnight Sun was cancelled resulting in many communities losing significant revenues tied to the cruise industry. The economies of many Alaskan communities are entirely driven by serving ships and tourists, put plainly, no ships and no visitors means no income.
With 2021 and the arrival of vaccines against COVID-19, our fellow Americans to the north dared to begin to hope that the economic engine that is the cruise industry would again support jobs, provide paychecks, and generate prosperity. Surprisingly, on February 4, 2021, the Canadian Minister of Transport announced two new Interim Orders which prohibit pleasure craft in Canadian Arctic waters and cruise vessels in all Canadian waters until February 28, 2022. This action extends by one year what was a temporary ban scheduled to expire this month. The consequences of this action are:
- Cruise vessels carrying more than 100 people are still prohibited from operating in Canadian waters;
- Those who do not comply with the pleasure craft prohibition could be subject to penalties: $5,000 per day for individuals and $25,000 per day for groups or corporations; and
- Those who do not comply with the passenger vessel prohibition could be liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to $1 million or to imprisonment for a term of up to 18 months, or to both.
This extended prohibition will prevent any large cruise vessel from the Lower 48 stopping in British Columbia on their way to Alaska, placing those same vessels in potential conflict with the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA). Generally, under the PVSA, only vessels that are U.S.-built, owned by a U.S. citizen or corporation, and documented with a coastwise endorsement, can engage in the transportation of passengers directly between ports or places within the United States. If Canadian ports continue to be closed, even after the U.S. deems cruising to be a safe form of travel and allows its resumption, many of the larger cruise vessels engaged in the Alaska run from California, Oregon and Washington will run afoul of the PVSA’s requirements.
In short, this action by the Canadian government may very well result in the loss of a second season for a significant portion of the Alaska cruise business. Another lost season represents a potentially devastating blow to the livelihoods of thousands of Alaskans. As noted in my report, the cruise industry generates tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs in Alaska annually. It is because of this that I encourage both the Biden administration and Congress to quickly review this issue and consider a limited exception to the PVSA while simultaneously engaging the Canadian government on the diplomatic front to address this particular problem.
Finding a temporary solution to this dilemma that balances Canadian concerns with the urgent need of communities in Alaska to benefit from a 2021 cruise season should be an area where our respective governments can find common ground. However, absent such bilateral cooperation, I would hope that there is creative and cooperative thinking taking place here in Washington D.C. to determine how to remove this impediment to Alaska’s economic health.
Louis E. Sola is a Commissioner with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission. The thoughts and comments expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.