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Alaska wants cruise laws changed to save season


Alaska's representatives in Congress have called for action to save Alaska's upcoming cruise season, essentially canceled by Canada's refusal to allow cruise ships and U.S. laws that require a foreign stop for nearly all ships.

But the history of the U.S. laws and the current situation don't offer the state much hope; making an exception for Alaska this year would open the laws to more controversy and side issues than anyone wants.

Canada has closed its ports because of the continuing Covid pandemic, although some suspicious minds suspect it might also be a quid pro quo for the Biden Administration's canceling of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The U.S. laws, grouped together as the Jones Act, deal with the arcane term "cabotage" and the not-so-arcane desire of U.S. shipbuilders, operators and sailors to keep a market for themselves. The acts ban foreign-flagged vessels from operating between two U.S. ports unless there is at least one stop in a foreign port as part of the itinerary.

But nearly all cruise operators who travel from U.S. ports have flagged their ships in countries that have lower fees, looser labor laws and cheaper wages. That's why Alaska cruises most start in Vancouver or stop there; in the Northeast, cruises along the New England coast stop at Halifax.

Exceptions to the Jones Act, and its included Passenger Vessel Services Act, have been granted in the past to allow hurricane and disaster relief ships and similar occasions, but language in the laws limits waivers to matters of 'national defense interest' and 'cannot be issued solely for economic reasons."

So, while a waiver could save jobs and a season in Alaska, it would require legislation that would, in return, trigger opposition by maritime unions and other shipping interest. It's just not likely to happen.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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UPDATE, 2/28/2021

With no clear path to exemption from either the Passenger Vessel Service Act/Jones Act or Canadian port closings, Alaska's Congressional Delegation has come up with two proposals, both of them relying on 'legal tricks' to get Alaska's summer tourism business back.

One proposal is to leave the laws in place, but to define voyages between Alaska and Washington as "foreign voyages" while Canada's waters and ports are closed, since they sort of pass by a foreign country, please, sir, don't they?

The other proposal involves action by Canada: the Congressmembers are asking Canada to allow cruise ships to enter Canadian ports, but without disembarking passengers. Sort of like claiming credit on your 'how many states' list for one where you changed planes but never left the airport.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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