The Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce issued a plea to its members Friday, asking for written testimony in regard to one barrier to resuming cruise ship tourism into the community sooner rather than later.
This hurdle reaches beyond the chamber’s membership to all in Alaska and the prospective visitors and cruise lines that have called or desire to come here.
The Legislature has before it Senate Joint Resolution 9, which asks Alaska’s congressional delegation to encourage Congress and President Joe Biden to waive aspects within the Passenger Vessel Services Act to allow the mostly foreign-flagged ships to dock at Alaska’s ports following departures from the Lower 48. Currently, the ships aren’t allowed to call here without first touching a foreign port, and the British Columbia ports of Vancouver and Victoria are the stops for most of the cruise ships sailing in Southeast Alaska.
Canada has extended its ban on large cruise ships operating in Canadian waters to February 2022 as part of its effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Gone are the days when Ketchikan and Southeast had sufficient industries to carry the local economy through trials. The timber industry is a faint shadow of what it used to be; commercial fishing has seen much better years, and the region is hard hit because of the current shutdown of the cruise ship industry in Alaska.
The state Legislature doesn’t shuffle millions of dollars for capital projects to the communities like it used to, either. It — like most governments and businesses — has its own financial challenges.
However, the federal Centers for Disease Control on Oct. 30, 2020 issued guidelines for ships to sail. They must have mitigation plans for crews, passengers, and port communities’ populations, including rules for COVID -19 testing and crew safeguards. As COVID-19 vaccinations increase and safety concerns subside, those guidelines and rules will be re-evaluated, adjusted or disposed of.
The states and their congressional representatives will have to work together to recover from the pandemic-prompted economic disaster under way. The president, as well.
Undoubtedly, other states have pandemic-prompted needs, too.
Some say that when Canada — without notice or a courtesy call to Biden — extended its cruise ship ban, it was in response to the president’s similar protocol regarding the Keystone XL Pipeline that affects Canada. In an executive order, Biden shut down the pipeline project. The loss of jobs created a catastrophe and surprised Canada.
If it’s pointed out to Biden that he can start protecting and increasing jobs by suspending the PVSA, then he might be inclined. He might even do it through an executive order, for which he has shown a fondness.
The jobs would include those of union workers who tie up and otherwise secure ships and the well-being of their passengers. They would include private enterprise jobs and local and state government jobs that involve the cruise ship industry.
The result would be a significant number of Alaskans and Washingtonians — the ships likely would come out of Seattle or another Pacific Northwest port (and hence the need for the cooperation of other states)— returning to or having more work, calming economic anxiety for individuals and communities, building pride and a sense of accomplishment, and lifting some of the burden on government to financially support able-bodied workers; no handouts, but a hand up.
Alaska tourism business employment created more than $1.4 billion in payroll in 2018, according to the Alaska Resource Development Council. The economic effect was $4.5 billion. One in every 10 jobs in Alaska is within the tourism industry.
Cruise ships brought about 1.3 million visitors out of 2.2 million visitors to the state in ’18. This accounted for 90% of Southeast’s visitors.
The federal government should remove the PVSA barrier. Alaska, other states and their economies shouldn’t be dependent upon the politics or the operations of a foreign nation. That’s why the United States has its own government.
"No problem of human making is too great to be overcome by human ingenuity, human energy, and the untiring hope of the human spirit." So says former President George H.W. Bush.
The PVSA is a problem of human making.