It took the Ketchikan City Council less than 15 minutes to unanimously approve signing a draft Memoradum of Agreement between Southeast Alaska port communities and the Carnival Corporation.

No community members came forward to speak to the issue at the meeting.

Carnival Corporation owns Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, as well as several smaller cruise lines.

Several other Southeast port communities and private port operators also are listed as signatories in the document (which is attached to the meeting packet),  and also are in the process of considering signing on.

The MOA addresses conditions set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19. Cruise ships were prevented from sailing in 2020 by the CDC’s No Sail Order, and in October, the CDC, working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services replaced that order with the Framework for Conditional Sailing, which provided the steps for a phased resumption of cruising in the U.S.

A CDC guidance letter released April 28 stated that cruise lines must enter into agreements with the ports and health authorities where a ship intends to dock. The agreements must include a port component, a medical care component and a housing component.

As part of the preparations to enter into the MOA to satisfy CDC requirements, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has stepped in to act as the local health authority for all of the Alaska ports in the MOA.

The MOA specifies that 95% of the ship’s crew and passengers must be vaccinated for a ship to be allowed to cruise without conducting a simulated voyage, as had previously been required.

Acting Ketchikan Port and Harbors Director Mark Hilson explained the main points contained within the MOA at Thursday’s meeting.

“This is our first port agreement, and if adopted as recommended, it will be a key component to the resumption of cruising not only in Ketchikan, but also Alaska,” he said.

Hilson said the MOA provides for four things.

● The 95% vaccination rate aboard the ships will allow passengers to freely explore, shop in and tour the area.

● Reporting in the “unlikely” event of  COVID-19 positive individuals on board the ships.

● On-ship treatment of sick passengers. Only passengers needing urgent care would be transported to local health facilities.

● A signed agreement with the company “Jet ICU” for medevac services for those on the ship who may need to be flown to Seattle for care. An agreement with the Port of Seattle will allow that arrangement, Hilson said. An agreement with both Seattle’s port and with Ketchikan PeaceHealth Medical Center are in progress.

After the MOA is signed by all parties, Hilson said that the Carnival Corp. will send it to the CDC for approval.

Hilson said there is a provision within the agreement that allows the community to either restrict berthing or cancel a ship’s visit or withdraw from the agreement

Council Member Abby Bradberry asked what would be considered a COVID-19 outbreak on board a ship.

An outbreak is defined in the MOA as the infection of 1.5% of people onboard a ship, HIlson explained. That would trigger certain limitations and required reporting.

Bradberry also asked if any operations would change on the port if the MOA was approved, such as the ability of community members to stroll on the front docks.

Hilson answered, “No, thankfully, it won’t.”

There will be no fences or other restrictions to access, he clarified, explaining that the 95% vaccination rate of passengers and crew enables a much freer approach to controlling the port.

The only restriction for visitors that remains in the MOA, Hilson said, is that when six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained, masks must be worn.

Council Member Dave Kiffer asked if there were provisions in the MOA regarding local vaccination rates or local COVID-19 outbreaks. Hilson answered that there really were none in the agreement besides basic port protocols such as required cleaning practices.

Council Member Riley Gass said, during the council member comments portion of the meeting, that “this whole 95% of the cruise ship people being vaccinated, as he said, that’s a game changer,” echoing a description Hilson had offered earlier.

Gass added, “As far as the COVID concerns, I think the cruise ships pretty much addressed it, and it seems to me, we don’t have much to worry about, so I think that’s a good thing.”

Hilson said that this MOA was only the first of several that will have to be considered for signing by the council. One by Celebrity Cruise Line and one by Royal Caribbean International cruise line each were received by city staff Thursday afternoon for review.

Addressing the need for a special meeting for every MOA that each cruise line presents, Gass and Council Member Mark Flora asked whether there was a way of cutting back the expense to the community of extra meetings by combining the MOA meetings with regular meetings or possibly considering more than one at a time.

Hilson said that Ketchikan City Manager Karl Amylon had pointed out that with separate meetings, each one gives public notice, in addition to a chance for community members to attend the meeting and weigh in with their thoughts.

Ketchikan City Mayor Bob Sivertsen said that the two draft MOAs received Thursday are anticipated to be considered for approval in one meeting, however.

Another issue is that the cruise lines are working to get the CDC requirements buttoned up as quickly as possible, so waiting for regular meeting times only would hinder the resumption of cruising in Alaska, Sivertsen added.

Council Member Sam Bergeron said, also in the council member comments portion of the meeting, “I feel like we’re starting to turn the corner on the pandemic. We’re getting back into the cruise business and things are starting to look more back to normal. I’m pretty happy about that.”