In another welcome ray of sunshine for Bainbridge businesses and the states of Alaska and Washington (not to mention the cruise ship companies!), we can all breathe a sign of relief with the news that the summer cruise season of 2021 will officially not be lost to the pandemic.
Yesterday President Biden signed into law the “Alaska Tourism Restoration Act”, temporarily suspending the century-old maritime law that prevented large foreign-flagged ships from sailing directly between two US ports.
“Today, I signed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act into law,” Biden tweeted last night. “Tourism is vital to the state of Alaska — and this law will help revitalize the industry and support Alaskans by allowing large cruise ships to return to the state this summer.”
Normally, cruises leaving Seattle for Alaskan destinations would have to stop at a Canadian port along the way, and as Canada has banned all large cruise ships until February 28, 2022 because of pandemic concerns, that would have meant no summer Alaskan cruise season for vessels leaving from Seattle.
The new Senate Bill 593 authorizes more than 50 specific foreign-built ships to now sail directly between Washington and Alaska. Ships must comply with CDC medical and safety standards and procedures and are also required to send the Canadian government and U.S. customs authorities a list of alien crew members.
Even though most sailings won’t begin until at least mid-July due to the time required to complete the CDC’s return-to-sail safety program and to get a ship ready, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Holland America have led the way in already announcing sailing plans on an as-soon-as-possible basis.
Norwegian’s CEO Frank. J. Del Rio explained, “We’ve always said it takes about 90 days to stand up a vessel.” Their cruises will begin in early August.
Some small cruise companies with American-built vessels with less than 250-passenger capacity are not affected by the Canadian ban and will also be sailing as usual this spring and summer.
The temporary measure is in effect until Canada reopens to cruises or March 31, 2022, whichever happens first. Voyages which begin no later than February 28, 2022 are now pre-approved for departure.
The bill saving Summer Cruise Season 2021 was first introduced in March by Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and passed by the Senate on May 13 before being passed by the House on May 20.