Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Murkowski plans bill to buoy Alaska cruise ship tourism

Sen. Lisa Murkowski plans to introduce a bill next week to permanently exempt Alaska-bound cruise ships from an 1800s federal law that forces them to stop in Canada.

Murkowski said the new legislation waives a measure in the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) that compels passenger cruise lines between the Lower 48 and Alaska to stop at a foreign port.

Murkowski said the law has had the unintended consequences of “putting Alaskan businesses at the mercy of the Canadian government,” which banned the stops in 2020 because of the pandemic.

The rule applies to ships registered in other countries, which represent the majority of the large cruise lines.

Under temporary legislation by Murkowski, Alaska-bound cruise ships in 2021 bypassed the rule and resumed voyages between Seattle, Washington and Alaska.

“It nearly wiped out Southeast Alaskan economies as we saw business after business ready to welcome visitors, but unable to because Canadians would not respond to our requests to allow foreign stops at their ports,” Murkowski said this week in Haines. “We cannot let that happen again.”

Her new legislation, which will be submitted next week, will allow that exemption permanently. The waiver will apply to foreign-flagged big cruise ships carrying more than 1,000 passengers.

The waiver would end once there is a U.S. built cruise ship that carries more than 1,000 passengers, she said. “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.”

In 2019, more than 1.3 million passengers aboard cruise ships visited Alaska. But the 2020 pandemic halted the cruise industry and threatened Alaska tourism.

Alaska tourism typically yields more than $214 million in state and municipal revenues, $1.4 billion in payroll, and $2.2 billion in visitor spending, Murkowski said. Those numbers plummeted during the pandemic.

Murkowski’s legislation, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA), was signed into law this spring as a temporary fix. Now Murkowski is seeking a permanent rule change.

“The PVSA was designed to benefit American shipbuilders and merchant mariners and to bolster our nation’s readiness in times of conflict,” Murkowski said.

“While the PVSA still serves its purpose in the Lower 48, it became readily apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic that Alaska needed an exemption due to Canada closing its borders,” she said.

By:  Linda F. Hersey
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner