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In Focus: Canada's Cruise Ban

FMC's Sola calls for limited PVSA exemption, diplomatic action to help Alaska

CRUISE FMC Commissioner Louis Sola.jpg
'The economies of many Alaskan communities are entirely driven by serving ships and tourists. Put plainly, no ships and no visitors means no income,' Louis Sola said
A US Federal Maritime commissioner is calling on the Biden administration and Congress to consider a limited Passenger Vessel Services Act exemption while simultaneously engaging Canada on the diplomatic front to address Alaska's hardship due to lost cruise business.

Commissioner Louis Sola said a second season without cruise ships could cause a 'devastating blow to the livelihoods of thousands of Alaskans.'

Alaska hardest hit 

Last September, as the fact-finding officer examining the COVID-19 impact on the cruise industry, Sola released an interim report stating that Alaska had perhaps been the hardest hit state in the nation.

'The economies of many Alaskan communities are entirely driven by serving ships and tourists. Put plainly, no ships and no visitors means no income,' Sola said.

The commissioner called for US action following Canada's Feb. 4 decision to ban cruise ships carrying more than 100 persons until Feb. 28, 2022.

Sola noted that many Alaska communities lost significant revenues due to no cruise ships in 2020. Then, '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' before, 'surprisingly,' the Canadian minister of transport extended the ban for a year.

Since most big cruise ships serving Alaska are not US-registered, they're required to make a foreign call under PVSA when transporting passengers between US ports.

'If Canadian ports continue to be closed, even after the US 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,' Sola noted.

Need for 'creative and cooperative thinking'

'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,' Sola continued. 'However, absent such bilateral cooperation, I would hope that there is creative and cooperative thinking taking place here in Washington, DC, to determine how to remove this impediment to Alaska’s economic health.'

In his statement Sola said the comments he expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the FMC.

High hurdles

There's quite a bit of talk about a temporary PVSA exemption and proponents in Congress include Alaska Rep. Don Young. However, cruise industry sources and legal experts consider this a high hurdle.

Another possible avenue that's being discussed, so-called 'technical' stops in Canada to satisfy PVSA, is not an option for ships carrying passengers, Transport Canada told Seatrade Cruise News last week.