WASHINGTON, D.C.— U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, released the following statement after President Biden signed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act into law, which will allow cruise ship traffic to resume between the states of Washington and Alaska:
“The legislation signed today provides a temporary waiver for the requirement that large cruise ships traveling between the states of Washington and Alaska stop in Canada, paving the way to allow these cruises to resume this summer. As long as the cruise operations are approved by the CDC and follow all relevant health and safety guidelines, the Puget Sound region will once again serve as the gateway to wild and scenic Alaska. This isn’t just about inviting visitors to experience the unparalleled beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it’s also about getting people back to work in our restaurants, shops, and maritime support businesses that fuel our busy waterfront,” said Senator Cantwell.
As the gateway for seasonal Alaska cruise travel, the cruise industry is an important economic driver in Washington state. More than a million cruise passengers travel through Washington state annually, with more than 70 percent of cruise passengers overnighting in the Puget Sound region before or after their cruises benefitting the local business such as restaurants, shops and hotels. Overall, the cruise industry accounts for $1 billion in direct purchases of goods and services and supports 22,750 jobs, paying $1.3 billion in wages in Washington state. The cancellation of the 2020 cruise season resulted in the loss of 5,500 Seattle area jobs and $900 million in economic losses.
This legislation was needed because many large cruise ships traveling from Washington state to Alaska are foreign flagged vessels, and therefore have to comply with specific laws to operate in the United States. One such law is the Passenger Vessel Services Act, which allows foreign-flagged vessels to travel between U.S. ports only if the vessel visits a foreign port during the voyage. For cruises departing Washington state for Alaska, ships have traditionally stopped in Canada.
On October 30, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order,” a phased technical guidance for a safe return to sailing with a phase two update on April 2, 2021. However, the Canadian government has closed the maritime border to cruise traffic through February 2022. In order to comply with the Passenger Vessel Services Act and resume cruise travel, this bill temporarily waives the requirement to stop in Canada until February of 2022. The bill also requires cruise operators to operate in accordance with all COVID-19 health and safety guidelines and other requirements as a condition to resuming travel.