Options give us opportunity when times get tough.
Canada shut down its cruise ship ports in recent days in response to the coronavirus flu.
This greatly affects Ketchikan and other coastal Alaska communities because the cruise ships that call here in the spring, summer and fall frequently originate in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Canada won’t allow ships accommodating more than 500 passengers to dock in Vancouver at least until July 1. That’s most of the Alaska-bound cruise ships, several of which, alone, employ crews notably higher than 500. With the addition of passengers, a ship’s population quickly exceeds 1,000.
The Passenger Services Vessel Act of 1886 allows only U.S. flagged ships to load passengers in a U.S. port and unload them in another U.S. port.
Because most cruise ships are foreign-flagged, the law prevents them from operating between U.S. ports without making a foreign stop. For Alaska-bound cruises by foreign-flagged ships, that means a cruise ship typically either originates in or tags Vancouver, B.C.
The Passenger Services Act is a decades-long discussion, which reaches fever pitch at times.
This might be one of those times.
Ketchikan and other hosts to the cruise ships, which are scheduled to begin their Alaska season at the end of April, are concerned about the economic implications of Canada’s port announcement.
The cruise ships represent about $66 million to Ketchikan’s economy alone, according to Ketchikan Visitor Bureau estimates.
At the same time, Ketchikan — like other communities throughout the state, the nation and the world — is taking precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, adopting policies similar to Wuhan, China, where the flu is believed to have originated. China locked down in January, and less than eight weeks later, began to report the lockdown’s effectiveness and lift restrictions.
Alaska’s cruise ship season begins in six weeks. Judging by China’s experience, taking precautions now should save the region’s 2020 cruise season.
Or it will depending on Canada’s decision as to whether to continue to impose its port lockdown through July 1.
By then, the coronavirus might have come and gone from Ketchikan. Maybe it won’t show up; the community certainly hopes that will be the case.
Alaska’s coastal cruise ship ports might not be as severely affected, if at all, as Canada.
That’s why the nation, specifically Alaska, should have options. The cruise industry should be allowed to sail out of both foreign and U.S. ports and into a U.S. port.
If it weren’t the coronavirus affecting sailings now, it might be another disaster or issue that interferes with cruise ships arriving in Alaska. For example, Canada might have a disaster that otherwise would have no effect on the Lower 48 and Alaska, but that closes Canadian ports. The PSVA should be circumnavigable, much like when ships reroute due to weather conditions.
Congress — with the leadership of Alaska’s delegation there and President Trump, who has been understanding of Alaska economics as they relate to several industries — should provide for situations when a foreign port is unavailable in order to avoid hardship on America’s, specifically Alaska’s at this time, economy. Not to mention that the nation would benefit economically if the ships came regularly out of U.S. ports.
Ketchikan, Alaska’s coastal communities, Alaska as a whole and the nation need options — a backup plan — for whatever might interfere with its economy.
The current disaster illustrates that well.
Addressing the PSVA should be quick due to the situation.
It can be much different for Ketchikan and Alaska in a matter of weeks without the PSVA restrictions and with the precautions being taken to keep the coronavirus at bay, both by the industry and the First City.