Governor writes to the White House, warning of another lost cruise ship season’s impacts to Alaska

A cruise ship visiting Juneau in 2019.
A cruise ship visiting Juneau in 2019.(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 8, 2021 at 7:24 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy has sent a report to the White House describing the economic impacts to Alaska if large cruise ships don’t visit the state for a second straight summer.

Without summer sailings, the governor said Alaska would see another $3 billion hit to its gross domestic product.

The report is accompanied by a letter sent to Jeff Zients, the president’s counselor, urging for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow cruise ships to begin sailing again.

The CDC issued new guidance on April 2 for how cruise ships could operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the guidance does not mean that cruise ships can sail yet.

The state of Florida filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the federal government, demanding that ships be allowed to sail immediately.

Maria Bahr, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Law, said the state of Alaska supports Florida’s efforts. She also said the state’s attorney general has been communicating with the Florida governor and the Florida attorney general about the lawsuit.

“We are not sure what legal avenue, if any, Alaska will pursue at this time but are in active discussions with other states and industry,” Bahr added.

The governor’s letter does not mention the other central impediment to an Alaska large cruise ship season: Canada. Under federal law, foreign ships need to stop in a second country if they’re sailing between two U.S. ports.

Canada extended a ban on cruise ships visiting the country for another year in February, all but ending Alaska’s large cruise ship season before it began.

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young have introduced bills that would allow for a temporary exemption for Alaska during the COVID-19 pandemic. The two bills have been referred to committees but neither have received hearings.

A spokesperson for Murkowski says it is a priority for the senator to bring Alaska’s tourism season back.

“She has been elevating this issue among her colleagues, the administration, and the Canadian Prime Minister,” Karina Borger said in an email. “In the Senate, she’s had productive dialogue with her colleagues and continues to look for a path forward on this legislation.”

Some large cruise ship operators like Norwegian Cruise Line have suspended bookings but not totally cancelled their 2021 Alaska seasons. Holland America made a similar announcement in mid-March.

Although the window to salvage some part of the summer season is shrinking everyday, Dunleavy administration officials say even a month or two of large cruise ship arrivals could make a difference.

“Our communities are suffering so tremendously that anything will help,” said Commissioner Julie Anderson of the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. “It would be wonderful to be able to have that.”

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