Alaska officials propose ‘Alaska Tourism Recovery Act’ to aid cruise, tourism industry amid Canada’s COVID concerns

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; and Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska introduced the “Alaska Tourism Recovery Act,” legislation that they hope will temporarily relieve restrictions in place as a result of the Passenger Vessel Services Act. 

U.S. maritime law requires international stops on ships flagged in foreign countries, which includes many major cruise lines’ ships. The bill would allow cruise ships to sail to Alaska without requiring a stop in Canada. Right now, Canada’s ban on cruise ships prohibits such a stop, posing a challenge to Alaska’s tourism industry and the cruise industry.

“Canada’s recent decision to prohibit Alaska-bound cruise ships from operating in Canadian waters creates legal hurdles that will hamstring the Alaska cruise season, creating additional economic strain on Alaska’s entire economy, especially in our Southeast communities,” Murkowski said in a release. 

While this is the first billintroduced to circumvent impacts of Canada’s cruise block, it isn’t Congress’ first effortto address the situation.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, introduced “companion legislation” in the House of Representatives, according to the release.

Last week, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure asked Canada to reevaluate its cruise ban, barring ships from Canadian waters until March 2022.

The Committee sent a letter to Kirsten Hillman, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., hoping to “encourage” the Canadian government to work with the U.S. and the cruise industry to find a “mutually agreeable solution.”

In the letter, the committee expressed its “concern regarding the potential economic impact on local businesses and communities,” saying that “by closing Canadian ports to passenger vessels for another year, the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Americans and Canadians are at risk from more job losses and further economic devastation.”

Canada’s ban not only impacts ships in Canadian waters, it also puts a roadblock in the way of cruises in Alaska, New England, Washington state or the Great Lakes. Ocean cruise ships have not sailed in U.S. waters since March 2020.

The committee suggested allowing stops at Canadian ports without passengers disembarking, noting that could minimize COVID-19 risk Canada is concerned about. 

The letter was signed by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.,  who is chair of the committee; ranking member Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.; Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., who is the chair of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation; ranking member Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, who is also on the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation; and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska..

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