Hawaii & Alaska
The Maritime Executive

AK - US Senate Approves Act Permitting Large Ships to Cruise to Alaska

In a voice vote, the U.S. Senate this afternoon approved the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act that would permit large cruise ships to operate cruises to Alaska this summer.

In a voice vote, the U.S. Senate this afternoon approved the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act that would permit large cruise ships to operate cruises to Alaska this summer. The act provides a waiver of the U.S. cabotage laws. The measure goes to the U.S. House for approval before it can be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The Act was a simple and direct measure that states that a roundtrip voyage transporting passengers between a port or place in the State of Alaska and a port or place in the State of Washington is deemed a foreign voyage for purposes of the law of the United States. The act remains in effect till February 2022.

The purpose of the effort was to circumvent the Canadian decision to close its ports to large cruise ships until 2022. Under the U.S. Passenger Vessel Services Act, all foreign flag passenger ships are required to stop at a foreign port when transporting American citizens between two U.S. ports. The large cruise ships traditionally have sailed either from the port of Vancouver, Canada, or Seattle, Washington on their summer cruise programs to Alaska. The closure of the Canadian ports and Canada’s refusal of even technical calls, where a ship stops in the port but does not disembark passengers, was effectively blocking the cruise lines from Alaska this year.

Alaskans have been appealing for relief because of the strong impact from the loss of its summer tourism. Cruises to Alaska had been one of the most popular summer programs drawing well over one million passengers each year. Even the small cruise lines, which had not been blocked and are now beginning their summer programs to Alaska, announced that they would support a temporary waiver because of the importance of tourism to the Alaskan economy.

“This has been a struggle to get everyone pulling together, but I think we are at a place where there is a glimmer of hope for Alaska’s tourism industry,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski who along with Senator Dan Sullivan had co-sponsored the Senate bill.  Previous efforts to get the act passed had been stalled by efforts to expand its content to incorporate other safety requirements on the cruise ships.

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