Measure to help restart Alaska cruises passes Senate

Written by Nick Blenkey
U.S. Capitol Dome

Image: Architect of the Capitol

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent S. 593, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA), sponsored by Alaska’s two U.S. senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.

The bill provides a way for cruise ships to bring passengers to Alaska, despite a Canadian order that bars cruise vessels from operating in all Canadian waters until February 28, 2022.

PASSENGER VESSEL SERVICES ACT

While cruise lines are getting closer to meeting CDC requirements to restart operations from U.S. ports that doesn’t mean Alaska cruises can immediately resume. The Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA), which can be thought of as a close cousin to the Jones Act, prevents foreign-flagged passenger vessels from offering direct services between U.S. ports. That’s the reason why Alaska cruises, until now, have either started or ended in Canada, or included a Canadian port call.

The just-passed Senate measure temporarily lifts the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) restrictions—for as long as the Canadian ban is in place—to allow large cruise ships to carry passengers between the State of Washington and the State of Alaska. The fix is essential to allowing cruise ships to sail to Alaska without requiring they stop in Canada, as U.S. law would normally require.

WORKING EVERY ANGLE

“The Alaska Delegation has been working every angle to help find a path forward for struggling Alaskans who rely on the tourism industry,” said Murkowski. “Senate passage of my legislation sends a strong signal that we will not stand idly by, withering on the vine, until another country catches up to our level of readiness. This shows that the health and restoration of our economy cannot be held up by Canada, especially since Alaska has led with vaccinations in the country and our communities are ready to welcome visitors back.”

“I want to thank Senator Murkowski for her work and my colleagues in the Senate for coming together today to give the thousands of Alaskans in the tourism sector a fighting chance at salvaging our 2021 summer cruise ship season,” said Sullivan. “The passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act today is an example of the U.S. Senate working at its best. This is an important step forward, but we still have more work to do.

“Congressman Don Young, the dean of the House and a great advocate for Alaska, will be working with his colleagues to quickly get the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act through the House. And, we’re continuing to work around the clock with CDC leaders to finally issue workable guidance that allows the cruise lines and coastal communities to safely welcome visitors again. Given the CDC’s much-awaited loosening of mask guidelines today for vaccinated Americans, I am hopeful we will see progress on this front as well.”

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