Exemption from cabotage sought for Alaska bound cruises

Legislation would provide economic benefits to state’s tourism industry

Legislation introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would provide a permanent exemption from for cruises transporting passengers to Alaska from the Lower 48 states from having to stop in Canada before proceeding to destinations in Alaska.

The Cruising for Alaska’s Workforce Act is an effort to support both Alaska’s tourism industry and U.S. shipbuilders, with a waiver that would end once there is a U.S.-built ship that carries more than 1,000 passengers, the senator said.

Murkowski previously introduced the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, which was signed into law on May 24, to provide a temporary exemption from the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA), under which vessels transporting passengers between the Lower 48 states and Alaska that were not U.S. built were required to come to port in Canada before coming to Alaska.

The restriction against ships not built in the U.S., which protects the U.S., is in the Jones Act, also known as The Merchant Marine Act of 1920. The Jones Act aims to ensure the stability of U.S. maritime commerce and to protect seamen’s rights. It requires that all goods shipped between U.S. ports be built, owned and operated by American citizens. The majority of member states of the United Nations also have cabotage laws, which may vary, and address concerns ranging from creating jobs to protection of the marine environment.

PVSA legislation, which dates back to 1886, requires foreign-registered ships to carry U.S. citizens to visit a foreign port when transporting Americans between two U.S. ports. Prior to 2020, major cruise lines complied with cabotage restrictions by either department from Vancouver, British Columbia or visiting Canadian ports, including Vancouver, B.C., or Victoria, during northern and southern bound trips to Alaska.

In 2019 Alaska’s tourism economy, particularly in Southeast Alaska, was buoyed by over 1.3 million cruise ship visitors. 

Then in 2020, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and Canada’s decision to close its borders, including ports. Southeast Alaska in particular suffered a serious blow to business revenues.

Murkowski noted that the tourism industry in Alaska typically generates over $214 million in state and municipal revenue, more than $1.4 billion in payroll, and $2.2 billion in visitor spending, all of which declined significantly during the pandemic, which continues with rising case counts in Alaska.

“My new bill guarantees the PVSA will not intrude on Alaska’s tourism economy, while also ensuring foreign-built ships do not compete with U.S.-built ships,” she said. “This legislation is good news for every Alaskan whose livelihood relies on tourism.”