The 2021 Ketchikan cruise ship season was touched on in a few discussions during the regular Ketchikan City Council meeting on Sept. 3.
City of Ketchikan Mayor Bob Sivertsen shared what he had learned in a teleconference with Cruise Lines International Association and cruise company representatives the day prior to the council meeting.
“They were talking about the recent sailings in Europe,” Sivertsen said. “There’s one ship with MSC (Cruises) that is moving forward with cruises and they are very restrictive in the manner that they are testing people and what those people are allowed to do. There are some cruises that have no port stops, you go out for the cruise, you spend all the time on the boat and you come back to your home port.”
He then shared some of the discussion about steps the cruise professionals are taking in their efforts to get the industry back to business. With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, ships carrying more than 250 passengers were banned in April from sailing in U.S. waters by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cruise ships were scheduled to bring more than 1.3 million passengers to Alaska in the 2020 season, but the entire season ended up with zero ship visits.
One item on the council’s Sept. 3 meeting agenda revealed that a shadow from Ketchikan’s empty 2020 cruise season is extending into the 2021 season. In a memo written by Ketchikan Port & Harbors Director Steve Corporon and attached to the meeting agenda, Corporon said that the Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska had been notified by Cunard Lines that all five 2021 visits to Ketchikan by its ship Queen Elizabeth have been canceled .
One target that the cruise industry is focusing on is working with the CDC to create a viable plan to re-open cruising in the U.S., Sivertsen said.
Another target addresses the U.S. code that affected the ability of the ships to travel to Alaska in 2020: the Passenger Vessel Services Act. The codes prohibits non-U.S. flagged ships from transporting passengers from one U.S. port to another without a foreign-port stop.
The code made it impossible — even if the CDC ban had been lifted — for the larger cruise ships, most of which are foreign-flagged, to cruise to Alaska when Canada banned the cruise ships from their ports at the start of the pandemic.
Sivertsen said, “There is also the ongoing discussion of how the PVSA — or the sister act to the Jones Act, in regards to the ship having to stop in Canada — could affect the seasons here in Alaska, and if there’s any work-arounds for that.
“So there’s ongoing discussions, they’re trying to start up in Europe,” Sivertsen said. “I imagine that we’ll see some stuff happening in the Caribbean and then we’re going to have ongoing discussions for the Alaska market, and it sounds like they will draft a plan, get it to the CDC and then we’ll have an opportunity to review that once it goes public, so that’s where we were with that.”
Renee Schofield, local business owner of The Safety Specialists, stepped to the podium at the meeting to share how her business is planning to help the community to thrive during the ongoing pandemic and to prepare for the 2021 tourist season.
Schofield introduced a training program that she and her staff have created, “COVID CLEAN — Taking Care of Business,” to “assist communities, employers and employees in understanding the safety in the workplace in relation to COVID-19.”
The training can be held in person with social distancing, through video conferencing or online, Schofield said.
Sivertsen said he requested the agenda item to discuss paying for the training of community members through the TSS program using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act money that the city has received.
The estimated budget to implement the program is about $17,000, Sivertsen said, projecting about 150 people taking the course at $79 each.
Speaking of the training program, Sivertsen said, “I think it would be important, particularly important for the ability to start up a cruise industry. I think that we have to be in step with whatever the cruise lines are doing, because there’s a potential for the community to affect the ships, as well as the ships to affect the community.
“I think that the protocols and the type of materials or chemicals that we’re using — it’s important that we provide the training to the people that are using those so they use them in the correct manner and frequent enough, and do a thorough enough job that we can assure the users of that particular service that we’re doing the best we can,” Sivertsen said.
Schofield described the heart of the TSS program, which she said is designed to teach people workplace protocols that can mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“What I’m finding is that many of the tour vendors or the business owners are struggling with the training for their employees,” she said.
She added, speaking of the official directions that the CDC gives to business owners, that they are “telling me that they are having trouble navigating all of that. They need a down-and-dirty program that can work and they can spend a couple hours educating their people.”
She said that if the council approves an agreement between the city and TSS allowing CARES Act funds to cover the cost of training community members, that the biggest obstacle people would meet in taking the training would be removed: the ability to pay for it.
The vision is, Schofield said, “we would be able to use some of the CARES Act money to put a good foot forward initially so the cruise lines, when they come looking to come back to Alaska, we can say, ‘We have educated our people. Not only are they doing the work, but they know about the products and the things that they are using. They know what the rules are.’”
She added, “It’s really just getting all of the people, from the waitress to the person who ties up the lines on the boat tour, to really get a good understanding of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it and making sure that we put our best foot forward.”
Upon completion of the course, Schofield said, each participant will receive a certificate of completion upon passing a final quiz. They also would receive a certification card, similar to a CPR-certification card.
There was, after the discussion, a four-hands vote to direct city staff to create an agreement with TSS to get the program set up.