During the Ketchikan City Council Thursday night, councilors considered allowing cruise ships to use the berths downtown during the nearly industry-wide suspension of ocean-going cruises.
Port and Harbors Director Steve Corporon said that at least one cruise line had approached the city about staging multiple ships at the downtown berths.
Reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cruise Line International Association announced on March 13 that all its member lines, which is 95% of the market, were suspending sailings for 30 days. The Canadian government also has announced restrictions on its ports that could delay the Alaska cruise ship season until July 1.
This has created logistical challenges, according to Corporon.
“It’s kind of like 9/11 with the airplanes,” Corporon said. “The infrastructure wasn’t there to land all the airplanes at once. (It’s) similar here; the infrastructure isn’t in place to have all the cruise ships in port.”
Based on docking fees, the city could make between $1,700 to $2,800 daily per ship, depending on the length, and possibly more depending on the needs of each ship — for example drinking water, and waste management.
The ships would not be subject to commercial passenger vessel fees or port development fees because no commercial passengers would be onboard.
Additional port security would be required by the U.S. Coast Guard security plan, and would cost the city between $1,500 and $2,500 for personnel. The city has no codified mechanism for charging cruise ships for security.
Corporon said that under these circumstances, in which 24/7 security would be required, a provision could be written into the agreement for the cruise line to cover the security costs.
“The other thing is there’s no power to these guys,” said Ketchikan City Mayor Bob Sivertsen at the meeting. “They’ll be running at the dock.”
Corporon estimated that they would be running at least one generator, and if the ship didn’t have a separate generator, at least one engine that powers everything.
Council Member Sam Bergeron asked whether there would be people monitoring the stack emissions. Corporon said that currently the state has no one in Ketchikan to do that.
Council Member Janalee Gage asked how much it would be to set up the berths to supply power to the ships.
“The last, wild, estimate we had was about $10 million for Berth 4,” said Corporon.
Additionally, depending on the ship, wastewater needs would have to be accommodated. If the ships have a more advanced wastewater system and a permit for continuous discharge, it won’t have an effect on which berth it’s at. However, if the ship doesn’t meet those requirements, the only wastewater hookup is on Berth 2. The city charges $150 per day, plus $100 per 1,000 gallons of effluent.
The port is not allowed to take solid waste from foreign-flagged vessels, according to Corporon. The landfill can take it, but with the volume, it wouldn’t be able to handle the amount.
He said that the agreement allows the city to stipulate that it won’t take solid waste.
Corporon said that vessels would come with a crew of between 250 to 750 people depending on the ship.
He said the inquiries they’ve had so far stipulated that they wouldn’t let the captain and crew off the ship. Those requirements could be written into an agreement, but would be superseded by federal regulation dealing with emergency situations.
He also said that the Coast Guard would oversee the movements of the cruise ships if they left the docks in the case of hazardous weather in order to dispose of wastewater outside of boundary waters.
If winds above 40 knots are forecasted, said Corporon, then it probably would require additional resources and tugs to take the strain off its berth. If winds are forecasted above 50 knots, he said, then the ships would be required to move out to open water.
Corporon said that vessels with cases of COVID-19, aren’t permitted by the Centers for Disease Control or the U.S. Coast Guard to dock in Ketchikan. The vessels are required by federal regulation to report sickness to the Coast Guard and CDC.
Council Member Mark Flora said he didn’t see enough benefit, saying someone could come here on the ship with COVID-19. If someone did become sick on board, he said, then it wouldn’t be the city’s decision on how to handle the case. He also took issue with the lack of an established way to charge for port security.
Council Member Dick Coose, said it probably wouldn’t be a large monetary benefit to the city, but it would be good to have the ships close by in case they are needed. Sivertsen had raised a point about using the ships for quarantine.
“It’s almost to me — you aren’t going to like this, some of you — being a good neighbor,” said Coose. “... As long as they’re clean, and they stay clean, I don’t have a problem.”
Bergeron agreed with Coose.
“I don’t think that the (cruise lines) will forget that we were good neighbors to them when times were hard,” Bergeron said. He added that the industry is important to the community and puts people to work at port security.
Gage said she would like to err on the side of caution.
“I see this as protecting the individuals of our community,” Gage said. “It’s not about good stewardship. It’s not about being a good neighbor. It’s about making sure that we’re not infecting more people in our community,” Gage said.
Corporon said that many cruise lines are looking for an answer about the possibility of docking sooner rather than later, and that deferring the matter might cause them to look elsewhere. He also added that if the community says no, cruise lines might ask cruise line agencies whether they could anchor outside the city. In that case, the city wouldn’t have control over the situation, and would receive no dockage fees.
“What do you think?” Sivertsen said looking around the room.
“If we’re worried about being a good neighbor,” Flora said, mentioning that the agenda item came out at the start of the meeting and the public hadn’t seen it yet, “... maybe we should find out what our real neighbors think. The people that live here. The people that we actually represent.”
The council agreed to defer any action until the next council meeting.