The measure pushed by members of Alaska’s Republican congressional delegation will allow large cruise ships to sail directly from Washington state to Alaska without stopping in Canada. It is intended as a temporary workaround of a longstanding federal law that requires certain large cruise ships bound for Alaska to stop in Canada or start trips there.
Canada, amid COVID-19 concerns, has barred cruise operations through February.
Global News has reached out to Canada’s economic development ministry as well as Transport Canada for comment, but did not immediately hear back on the holiday Monday.
British Columbia’s port authorities have raised concerns the U.S. law could set the stage for a permanent bypassing of Canadian ports.
The province’s tourism ministry told Global News on Monday that the bill makes clear it will be “automatically rescinded when Canadian ports are reopened to cruise ships.”
Premier John Horgan is set to meet with Alaskan senators on Tuesday to discuss “this matter and other issues,” the ministry added.
“The province will continue to support and defend B.C.’s tourism industry and all the people, businesses and communities who depend on it,” a ministry spokesperson said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has said Alaska has a limited opportunity for cruise travel, unlike sunny locales such as Florida. Before the pandemic, the season in Alaska would begin in late spring and extend through the summer or sometimes early fall.
She said cruise lines now have an opportunity to book trips to bring people to Alaska and “help us with our economy that has really been smacked hard by COVID.” Tourism is an important industry in the state, particularly for many southeast Alaska communities heavily reliant on cruise ship passengers.
Passage of the bill underscores the importance of not giving up, Murkowski said in comments alongside Sen. Dan Sullivan and U.S. Rep. Don Young, the other members of the state’s congressional delegation, in Washington, D.C, on Monday.
Cruise lines still must meet guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to guard against COVID-19.
Earlier Monday, Norwegian Cruise Line announced plans to resume U.S. operations beginning Aug. 7, with voyages from Seattle to Alaska ports. The company has planned sailings through mid-October.
Cruise lines such as Holland America Line also have announced sailing plans.
Many of the large ships that visit Alaska are registered in foreign countries. U.S. law prohibits such ships from sailing between two American ports without stopping at a foreign port.
Ian Robertson, the CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, said last week he tried to alert Canadian and B.C. politicians to the ramifications of the bill when it passed the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday, sending it to Biden’s desk to become law.
“I must admit it’s been frustrating, we’ve been sounding the alarm for the past few months,” Robertson told the Canadian Press Friday.
Given the estimated $2.7-billion economic impact of the cruise industry on the B.C. coast, Robertson said it feels like a dangerous precedent to set before exploring other options.
The harbour authority wants the federal government to allow “technical calls,” which would see the ships maintain the routine stops without allowing passengers and crew to leave the ship.
Requests for comment sent to both the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and the Port of Vancouver were not immediately returned Monday.
B.C.’s tourism ministry said Monday that minister Melanie Mark and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming have spoken to the port authorities and federal ministers about the issue, including the “logistics of technical stops.”
Associated Press reporter Darlene Superville contributed from Washington, D.C.
–With files from Global News and the Canadian Press