Holland America Volendam carries passengers from Seattle to Ketchikan, Alaska for scenic tours. A 19th century U.S. shipping law has required foreign vessels to stop at a B.C. port in between. (Holland America Line)

Holland America Volendam carries passengers from Seattle to Ketchikan, Alaska for scenic tours. A 19th century U.S. shipping law has required foreign vessels to stop at a B.C. port in between. (Holland America Line)

Seattle-Alaska cruise ships gear up to bypass B.C. ports this summer

Ottawa’s COVID-19 ban until March 2022 pushes U.S. to act

Holland America Line wasted no time offering bookings for July on its restored Seattle-Alaska cruises, after a law dropping the requirement for a stop at B.C. ports was unanimously passed by U.S. politicians and sent to President Joe Biden to be enacted.

“The wait is over!” Holland America’s website proclaimed after both parties in the U.S. House of Representatives endorsed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act. “2021 Alaska cruises begin sailing July 24th.”

Alaska Congressman Don Young taunted B.C. Premier John Horgan on Twitter after the measure was quickly passed May 20, quoting Horgan’s comment in March that the likelihood of action by the bitterly divided U.S. Congress “is remote in good times, much less in times of crisis.”

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and other U.S. politicians worked to save the 2021 cruise ship season after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government surprised them by announcing that foreign cruise ships would not be allowed to dock in Canadian ports until March of 2022. They wrote to Trudeau in February, asking for an exemption to allow stops in B.C. with no passengers allowed off, to meet the requirements of a 19th century U.S. law preventing foreign-built ships from travelling directly from one U.S. port to another.

RELATED: Victoria Harbour Authority worries about cruise future

RELATED: Canada-U.S. border closure extended again to June 21

B.C. Liberal interim leader Shirley Bond said her fears that the U.S. policy change that may become permanent were reinforced when she visited a Government Street tourist shop in downtown Victoria this week. Cruise ship passengers were a mainstay of Victoria’s tourism, as well as the main traffic source for terminals in Vancouver and Prince Rupert. Some U.S. politicians are already advocating moving on from the 1886 Passenger Vessel Services Act, designed to protect sailing ship owners from foreign competition.

“We raised this issue months ago with the premier and his minister, and in fact at the time, I’m not even sure they understood the issue we were talking about,” Bond said. “It’s an industry that is responsible for 20,000 jobs, $2.2 billion in the economy of our province, so we are deeply concerned about the reaction that we got when we raised that issue, and we will continue to press the government and this premier to do his job when it comes to standing up for British Columbia.”

Tourism Minister Melanie Mark has repeatedly said B.C. has pressed Transport Canada to ease the ban, but even “technical stops” with no passengers allowed have not been allowed. Earlier in the pandemic, B.C. also had no success persuading Transport Canada to allow B.C. Ferries passengers to stay in their vehicles in lower decks.

“We are a magnet,” Mark told the B.C. legislature May 20, moments after B.C. Liberal MLA Mike de Jong informed MLAs that the U.S. House or Representatives had just passed the Alaska tourism law. “We’re a destination of choice for cruise ships to come from Seattle. On their itinerary, they love coming to Victoria.”


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tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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