Canada has banned cruise vessels from national waters until at least February 2022 in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the announcement made on Thursday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says cruise vessels carrying 100 or more people will remain prohibited from operating in Canadian waters.
Alghabra says the cruise ships pose a risk to Canadian health-care systems and the ban will allow health authorities to continue to focus on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and contain the spread of any new COVID-19 variants.
“Temporary prohibitions to cruise vessels and pleasure craft are essential to continue to protect the most vulnerable among our communities and avoid overwhelming our health care systems,” said Alghabra in a press release, accompanying the decision.
“This is the right and responsible thing to do.”
The decision will effectively stop the once-lucrative cruise season for provinces like Nova Scotia and New Brunswick for the second year in a row.
But the news isn’t necessarily a surprise to the cruise ship industry in Canada.
Members of the industry in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia told Global News in January that they were hoping for the best and planning for the worst when it came to the 2021 season which, at the time, was still up in the air.
In the meantime, some ports have continued plans to revitalize despite having no tourists.
Saint John, for example, is in the midst of a $200-million expansion project.
“Saint Johners are going to see a complete change in the appearance of the west side of the port, the biggest change we’ve seen here in decades,” Jim Quinn, president and general manager of Port Saint John, told Global News in January.
Despite the effects the ruling will have on the industry, the Port of Halifax, attempted to strike a positive outlook in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
“The fundamentals of tourism in our region remain strong; Nova Scotia is a place that people want to visit, and the cruise lines will continue to make Halifax a premier destination once it is safe to do so,” said Lane Farguson, a spokesperson for the Port of Halifax.
“The Halifax Port Authority will continue to take direction from Transport Canada and Public Health officials as we have throughout this situation, and at the same time, we will work with our industry partners to ensure we are ready to move quickly once the recovery takes hold.”
Port Saint John struck a similarly positive tone in a statement issued Thursday saying it respected the directions from Transport Canada.
“Together our industry is optimistic that, when the time is right and it is safe to do so, cruise will be back,” the release read.
Vessels carrying more than 12 people are still prohibited from entering Arctic coastal waters. That doesn’t apply to craft used by local communities for essential transportation, hunting or harvesting.
An existing prohibition on cruise ships was set to expire later this month and the new ban will now be in effect until Feb. 28, 2022.
However, Alghabra left the door open to rescinding the order if COVID-19 conditions improve to the point where it’s safe to resume the activities.
Those who do not comply with the restrictions are subject to fines.
Violating the pleasure craft prohibition in Arctic coastal waters carries with it a $5,000 per day fine for individuals and a $25,000 per day fine for groups or corporations.
Violating the cruise ship prohibitions could result in fines of up to $1 million or imprisonment for a term of up to 18 months if convicted.
— With files from Global News’ Andrew Cromwell and Travis FortnumView link »