Canada imposes lengthy cruise ship ban, likely ending Alaska summer sailing season

Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 12:48 PM AKST|Updated: Feb. 4, 2021 at 1:00 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Canada has imposed a new ban on large cruise ships until February of 2022, likely ending Alaska’s summer sailing season.

The ban means that pleasure crafts with 100 or more people are unable to stop in Canada on their way to Alaska. Under federal law, foreign-flagged ships are not allowed to sail directly between two U.S. ports and need to stop off in a second country.

Canada’s ban was announced Thursday morning and likely ends Alaska’s summer cruise ship season which provides a critical source of revenue for the state economy.

Robert Venables, the executive director of Southeast Conference, said his phone lit up with calls when the announcement was made. He said there are calls being made to Alaska’s congressional delegation to try to make an exemption to one federal law that impacts cruise ship sailings in hopes that some ships could still come to Alaska in 2021.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development has said that Southeast Alaska has been the most negatively impacted region in the state economically due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutting down of the 2020 cruise ship season.

“Having Transport Canada close the waters is like the final nail in the coffin for struggling communities and businesses across the region,” Venables said.

A second-year without cruise ships would mean that some communities and small businesses will go 31 months without a critical source of revenue.

Cruise ship passengers brought in over $120 million in revenue in 2019 for local governments across Alaska.

Rorie Watt, Juneau’s city manager, said that Alaska’s capital city derives around 20% of its sales tax revenue from cruise ship passengers. Losing that revenue for a second year in a row will challenge how the city and borough’s budget is written, he added.

Many small businesses in Southeast survived 2020 with federal COVID-19 relief, Thursday’s announcement will make life more difficult. “People who work in tourism or have small businesses in tourism need a new plan for this year and they better start now,” Watt said.

Cruise industry watchers already had a bleak outlook for Alaska’s 2021 summer cruise ship season as the start date kept being pushed back.

Venables said he had been told that the ban would not impact the Alaska Marine Highway System that sails through Canadian waters to Bellingham.

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