US bill pushes to permanently allow Alaska cruise ships to skip BC destinations

Jun 11 2021, 5:43 pm

If a US senator from Utah were to have his way, the current temporary policy that allows Alaska cruise ships to skip destinations in British Columbia would become permanent.

Republican senator Mike Lee’s three bills introduced earlier this week would repeal and reform the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) of 1886, a law he calls “outdated, protectionist law that harms American jobs and American tourism.”

The law mandates passenger ships between US ports to call at a foreign port between the stops at US ports. But Lee argues these cruise ships could otherwise spend more time in American ports, benefiting the businesses in those cities and their port workers.

Cruises sailing from Seattle to Alaska must stop at a BC port, while cruises from California to Hawaii often stop in Ensenada in Mexico.

“This arcane law benefits Canada, Mexico, and other countries who receive increased maritime traffic, at the expense of American workers in our coastal cities, towns, and ports,” said Lee.

“Reducing demand for jobs and travel opportunities here in the US is the opposite of ‘America First.’ And in the context of ocean liners, this ‘protectionist’ law is literally protecting no one, as there hasn’t been a cruise ship built domestically in over half a century. The PVSA is bad economics and bad law, and it’s far past time that Congress reconsider it.”

Last month, the PVSA’s stipulations on requiring a stop at a foreign port was temporarily rescinded — a move approved by both the Senate and House of Representatives, and the bill then signed by President Joe Biden. Currently, this bill is set to expire at the end of February 2022, when Canada is expected to lift its ban on such vessels at its ports.

The temporary bill was pushed forward after the Canadian federal government and BC provincial government refused to work with American counterparts on permitting a technical stopover at Canadian ports that would allow for an earlier restart of the Alaskan cruise ship industry this summer. Following the policies of the PVSA, cruise ships would stop in BC, but passengers would not get off.

This was intended to support the struggling businesses in Alaska’s small tourism-dependent communities.

If the current measures become permanent, Victoria would see the most impact compared to other BC ports. Its sizeable cruise ship business is primarily based on being a port of call rather than a homeport like Vancouver.

In 2019, Victoria saw 709,000 passengers and 295,000 crew on a total of 257 cruise ship calls.

Roughly 350,000 hotel-night stays in Vancouver in 2019 were attributed to the cruise ship operations. About 120 ships with over 800,000 passengers visit Canada Place each year.

In particular, Vancouver’s cruise ship industry accounts for a significant proportion of BC’s tourism activity and overnight hotel stays. Each ship that visits Canada Place creates about $3 million in local economic activity — everything from passenger spending on retail, restaurants, attractions, and hotels to cruise ship spending on replenishing their food and supplies.

Direct and indirect activities spurred by the cruise industry support about 7,000 jobs and $2.2 billion in total economic impact.

In a statement to Daily Hive Urbanized, Rob Fleming, the BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, says the “new proposed legislation is of greater concern to British Columbia and Canadians.”

“I have been engaged with the federal government on this issue for some time and met with the federal Minister of Transportation on the matter this morning. I have also requested an urgent meeting with the Canadian Ambassador to the US. This is not what cruise ship travellers want: Americans and international tourists want to visit Canadian destinations, and it enriches the experience cruise operators can offer to their passengers,” he said.

“We want to ensure that the tourism industries in both Canada and the US come back strong.”

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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