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Canada lifts cruise ship ban effective November this year

Canada is lifting its cruise ship ban effective Nov. 1, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced today in Victoria, BC.

This effectively means big-ship cruising can resume in Canada in 2022 though it's possible some small ships may be able to operate late this year, the minister said.

'As Canadians have done their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19, our government continues to work hard to safely restart our economy and build back better,' Alghabra said. 'We will welcome cruise ships — an important part of our tourism sector — back in Canadian waters for the 2022 season.'

He added: 'We're providing certainty to the industry, letting them prepare, schedule trips and start selling tickets.'

Canadian ports will be open provided operators are able to fully comply with public health requirements and depending on the pandemic situation in communities ships will visit. Standards will be forthcoming.

'Cruise industry vital for our country's tourism sector'

'The cruise industry contributes more than $4bn annually to Canada's economy and is 'vital for our country's tourism sector,' Alghabra said.

An announcement had been foreshadowed here by Andrew Dixon, chair of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities' Cruise Committee and SVP of trade and business development for Port Saint John. 

'Time to plan for safe resumption'

Reacting to the announcement, Dixon called it 'great news for all of the businesses that rely upon cruise tourism revenues, and we have more than enough time now to plan for the safe resumption of this industry in collaboration with all of our business partners. This is another bright light of recovery as we look forward to 2022.'

While there is typically no cruising in Canadian waters until April, the ACPA Cruise Committee had urged the government to take a decision now — instead of waiting until the ban was to expire at the end of February 2022 — so that lines can begin marketing and selling their itineraries.

It seemed the government listened.

Stephen Burnett, executive director, The Great Lakes Cruise Association, credited Dixon for his leadership of the ACPA Cruise Committee.

'The task force harnessed a significant brain trust, with members serving from ports and tourism communities from all coasts as well as the Great Lakes,' Burnett said. 'This announcement will allow the global cruise community to plan their Canadian itineraries and their resumption of cruising through Canadian ports in 2022.'

Working together for one goal: the safe resumption of cruising

'I am so proud of all our colleagues across the country in all the cruise ports,' Dixon said. 'We came together one year ago with the single thought of how to safely resume cruising in Canada. To all our colleagues at all the cruise lines, we're delighted to be able to anticipate their return and the recovery of their business and, with that, the recovery of the entire cruise infrastructure of Canada and communities that depend on it.'

For Dixon's own Port Saint John, the first cruise ship is expected May 11 in a season with 70 calls and 188,000 passengers currently on the books — a good year. The 'wild card' is how full ships will be. He expects 2022 to go down as a recovery year but is hopeful that as the vaccine rollout continues and the pandemic settles, the businesa will do well. 

In the months ahead, federal, provincial, regional and local authorities will be working together, Dixon said, to ensure a 'safe and secure restart of a responsible industry and one that's very important to the economy of Canada and certainly to the cities, regions and provinces where cruise ships call.'

Winter cruising from Québec?

Québec has been working toward winter cruising for some time. Could this be the year? 

'There is a real potential for winter cruising in the Saint Lawrence and today’s announcement gives enough time to put in place all the measures needed to be ready as soon as next winter,' said René Trépanier, executive director of Cruise the Saint Lawrence.

Alaska, Canada/New England, St. Lawrence, Great Lakes impacted

Canada's ban has had a significant impact on the North American cruise industry, both on cruise lines and a wide array of homeports and destinations — those like Vancouver and Victoria that are part of the Alaska itinerary on the West Coast and those in Canada/New England, the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes itineraries to the east.

No cruise calls for two years

The country has had no cruise calls for two years — 2020 and 2021. Small ships carrying 100 or fewer souls (passengers and crew) were allowed, however even small passenger ships were blocked from the waters of the Canadian Arctic.

It literally took an act of the US Congress to pass a temporary waiver to the US Passenger Vessel Services Act to enable a partial Alaska cruise season this summer, without calls in British Columbia. Alaska lawmakers fumed over Canada holding firm on its 'no cruises' stance. Subsequently, US legislation was introduced to permanently do away with the PVSA, though that's seen to face an uphill battle. 

But Canada's coronavirus toll has been much lower than that of the US. And, unlike the US with its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conditional sailing order, Canada hasn't distinguished cruising from other forms of international travel. They've all been blocked.

Meanwhile, Canada discourages cruise travel for now

The government of Canada continues to advise Canadians to avoid all travel on cruise ships outside the country until further notice.