Canada Deals a Blow to Alaska's Cruise Ship Visitors Industry
Posted & Edited By MARY KAUFFMAN
February 14, 2021
Many cruise ships that visit the Inside Passage are based in foreign countries, and federal law (The Passenger Service Vessel Act of 1886) requires foreign-flagged ships to dock in a foreign port at least once during its voyage.
Effectively, many large ships will be unable to visit Alaska this summer, including those operated by Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean. Their absence in Alaska will cause significant harm to Southeast Alaska’s visitor industry and Alaska’s economy as a whole.
“The decision by Canada to close its border to cruise ship traffic is disappointing and unacceptable. Without the prospect of large cruise ships visiting Alaska this summer, many businesses will likely fail, doing irreparable damage to our economy,” said Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan).
Ortiz said, “Everyone has been anticipating a 2021 tourism season. I will be working closely with other members of the Legislature to advocate for and support the industry in whatever way we can.”
“2020 was incredibly difficult for our many businesses and neighbors that rely on cruise ship travelers to support their families,” added Rep. Andi Story (D-Juneau). “Southeast legislators are working on a solution that will allow needed economic activity and jobs while protecting the health of Alaskan and Canadian communities.”
Rep. Sara Hannan (D-Juneau) said, “With the effects on last summer’s season already catastrophic for so many workers and businesses in our communities, the announcement of Canada’s policy is just devastating. Along with my other Southeast colleagues in the Legislature, and with the help of our delegation in Washington D.C., I will persevere in every effort to make a safe 2021 cruise ship season possible.”
Prior to COVID-19, Alaska received just over 2 million visitors each year, with more than 1 million of those visitors arriving by cruise ship. The visitor industry’s economic impact is sizable: it adds over 50,000 jobs and brings in over $125.6 million in taxes and revenues, for both local and state entities. The overall economic impact is $4.5 billion.
Many communities in Southeast battled with uncertainty and difficult economic outcomes in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although some businesses were able to adapt or hibernate for the single season, the loss of a second season would be detrimental.
The Canadian Minister of Transport, the Honorable Omar Alghabra, announced two new Interim Orders which ban pleasure craft in Canadian Arctic waters and cruise vessels in all Canadian waters until February 28, 2022. The effect of these combined bans will prevent Alaska sailings out of Seattle via Canada. Following the announcement, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young, all R-Alaska, released a joint statement:
“As the state with the most extensive shared border with Canada, the Alaska Delegation has worked in good-faith to seek compromise over border crossing restrictions due to COVID-19, keeping in mind the health and safety of Alaskans and Canadians. Canada’s announcement to ban all cruise sailings carrying 100 people or more traveling through Canadian waters, without so much as a courtesy conversation with the Alaska Delegation, is not only unexpected - it is unacceptable - and was certainly not a decision made with any consideration for Alaskans or our economy. We expect more from our Canadian allies,” said the Alaska Delegation. “Upon hearing the announcement, we immediately reached out to Canadian and American agencies to try to understand the rationale behind this decision - particularly the duration of the ban. We are exploring all potential avenues, including changing existing laws, to ensure the cruise industry in Alaska resumes operations as soon as it is safe. We will fight to find a path forward.”
Following the February ban announcement by the Canadian Minister of Transport, Murkowski, Sullivan, and Young penned a letter on February 12th to Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, urging him to work with the Alaska Congressional Delegation on COVID-19 travel restrictions in an effort to limit the negative impacts to Alaskan and Canadian constituents. This February 12th letter follows a February 4th announcement from the Canadian Minister of Transport on two new Interim Orders which ban pleasure craft in Canadian Arctic waters and cruise vessels in all Canadian waters until February 28, 2022. The effect of these combined bans will prevent Alaska sailings out of Seattle via Canada, which will have detrimental impacts on Alaska’s economy.
“We were shocked by the decision announced by your government last week to extend the ban on cruise ships carrying over 100 passengers until February 28, 2022. We are particularly concerned that this decision was made without any forewarning to or consultation with Alaska, your neighbor and partner. Losing access to Canadian ports creates significant disruptions to the cruising season in Alaska, and will have a significant economic impact on our state, which is already suffering from the recession caused by this pandemic. The loss of revenue from tourism for another year will cause extensive economic damage and put at risk the more than 20,000 jobs across Alaska that are reliant on spending from cruise ship passengers. While we agree that safety must be a priority as we make decisions, we are disappointed by the decision to extend the cruise ship ban for at least another a year without working with us,” the letter reads.
The Delegation went on to write that the best path forward for Alaska and Canada is to, “work together, as mutual partners with a vested interest in a safe return to robust and shared economies.” The members of Congress urged Prime Minister Trudeau, “to consider Alaska as an essential stakeholder in your port and waterway closure considerations.”
“We believe there are many ways to achieve a safe sailing season without the extreme measure of a one year total ban. We would appreciate your sincere consideration of a variety of options, including robust health protocols and the employment of technical stops, which may constitute a safe, yet reasonable, compromise to solving this dilemma,” the letter continues.
Earlier in an effort to address US-Canada border crossing issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic, in October 2020, Senators Murkowski, Sullivan, Congressman Don Young, and Governor Mike Dunleavy (R-AK) sent a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, raising issues that have severely impacted Alaskans. In their letter, the Alaska Delegation highlighted specific, persisting challenges impacting the health and safety of Alaskans and proposed reasonable solutions.
Last month, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska's President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson participated in a panel during the Jay Treaty Border Alliance virtual meeting to discuss U.S.-Canada border-crossing issues and efforts to facilitate the mobility of Indigenous people. He was joined by leaders of Indigenous nations and tribes located on or near the international boundaries.
"Unfortunately, our traditional territories of the Southeast Alaska tribes are very well divided by this imaginary line and this border," said President Peterson. "We have tribal citizens in the Yukon and in British Columbia and it has really made our lives extremely difficult. Many of our people can't freely pass across the border if they have any kind of infractions."
During the panel, President Peterson along with two other panelists spoke in favor of the Tribal Border Crossing Parity Act which would provide the right of American Indians born in Canada or the United States to pass the borders of the United States to any individual who is a member or is eligible to be a member of a federally recognized tribe in Canada or the United States.
The original Jay Treaty, signed in 1794 between Great Britain and the United States, provides that American Indians may travel freely across the international boundary if they can provide evidence of their heritage and are at least 50 percent Native American. The Jay Treaty Border Alliance seeks to remove the blood quantum requirement in the United States and improve the education and cultural sensitivity of border agents.
Quoting a CCTHITA news release, President Peterson believes tribes must continue to advocate for the Indigenous right of crossing and demand that we get a voice at the table regarding border policies.
"We need a permanent, regular role of tribes in the international bodies and the decision making and policymaking of border states," President Peterson said. "Tribes need direct participation."
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