Ketchikan — and all other Alaska port towns and entities involved in large cruise ship tourism — can appreciate the Alaska congressional delegation’s successful effort in May to secure a federal waiver that cleared the route for cruise ships to return to the Last Frontier in 2021.
That fix is temporary, however. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Alaska Tourism Restoration Act affects only the 2021 season. After that, the federal Passenger Vessel Services Act measure that requires foreign-flagged passenger vessels to make at least one stop in a foreign port while carrying passengers between U.S. ports will be back in place.
But Alaska’s legislators now are working on long-term fixes that would prevent circumstances such as the one that nearly sank any possibility for a 2021 season in Alaska — Canada’s pandemic-related ban on large cruise ships from calling in Canadian ports.
One of those potential legislative fixes was announced by Murkowski on Tuesday during the Southeast Conference’s annual meeting in Haines.
“Next week, I intend to introduce legislation that will permanently exempt Alaskan cruises carrying more than 1,000 passengers from the PVSA,” Murkowski said. “This legislation will create jobs for American merchant mariners in the cruise industry, and to ensure foreign-built cruise ships do not compete with U.S.-built ships, this waiver will end once there is a U.S.-built cruise ship that carries more than 1,000 passengers. We do not want to compete with U.S. shipbuilders — that’s why this legislation ends once there is an American market. Bottom line, we need to reform the PVSA so that Alaskans’ ability to engage in commerce isn’t derailed by the government of another country.”
The proposed legislation will be introduced next week, according to information from Murkowski’s office.
Meanwhile, Rep. Don Young has introduced another potential legislative fix.
In an op-ed published Wednesday in the Ketchikan Daily News, Young provided the outlines of his proposed Tribal Tourism Sovereignty Act.
“My proposal is simple yet powerful: large foreign flagged passenger vessels that call on ports or places in the United States owned by Tribes or Alaska Native Corporations would be compliant with the PVSA's foreign stop requirement,” Young wrote. “In Alaska, this would mean that voyages would no longer have to stop in or originate in Canada. Cruises could start and end in Alaska, maximizing their time in our state and opening new economic development opportunity for Alaskans.
We agree with Young and Murkowski that the PVSA — first enacted in 1886 — has valuable mechanisms for helping protect U.S. shipbuilders and mariners.
However, as Young wrote, “the near miss of this year’s cruise season highlighted the need for reforms.”
Alaska’s port towns and everyone statewide who benefits from cruise tourism should be encouraged by Murkowski and Young’s efforts to secure a long-term fix.
Time will tell how (or whether) the proposed pieces of legislation will progress through Congress. But again, Young is correct when he writes that “it is time for a new model that does not allow foreign governments to control Alaska's economy.”