Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
A fishing vessel is drawfed by the Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Pearl in Juneau’s downtown harbor in September 2014. On Thursday, Canada announced a ban on cruise vessels in Canadian waters through February 2022.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File A fishing vessel is drawfed by the Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Pearl in Juneau’s downtown harbor in September 2014. On Thursday, Canada announced a ban on cruise vessels in Canadian waters through February 2022.

‘Devastating’ decision: Juneau reacts to Canada’s cruise ban

The announcement was made Thursday.

Canada is banning all cruise vessels in Canadian waters until Feb. 28, 2022. The decision, which was announced Thursday, is expected to have a profound impact on Alaska’s 2021 cruise season.

In the U.S., federal law prohibits foreign-flagged cruise ships from allowing passengers to board at one U.S. port and debark at another U.S. port. That means the ban effectively cancels the 2021 Alaska cruise season for the largest cruise lines.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Thursday cruise vessels carrying 100 or more people will remain prohibited from operating in Canadian waters. Alghabra said they pose a risk to health care systems.

Vessels carrying more than 12 people are will also stay prohibited from entering Arctic coastal waters.

The temporary measures were scheduled to end on Feb. 28, 2021. Those who do not comply are subject to fines.

The news caused ripples across Juneau’s civic leaders, the business community and within the cruise industry.

“This is really disappointing for Juneau, said Liz Perry, President and CEO of Travel Juneau, when reached by phone on Thursday. “We are all deeply concerned. We are totally in a holding pattern.”

Perry said she and other Travel Juneau partners have been in touch with members of Alaska’s congressional delegation and are hoping for quick action to provide some stability for tour operators and other local businesses.

“This industry has been decimated for 10 months. To get through 2021, we need a waiver of the Passenger Safety Act and clear guidance from the CDC. We don’t want to put people at risk, but we need to know the expectations,” Perry said. “Another season like 2020 and several of our operators won’t make it through and won’t be ready to operate in 2022. When people come to town they want to have charters and guides available, and we want to have that available. The longer we wait, the worse it will get.”

Local business owners also expressed disappointment about the news.

Laura Martinson, a lifelong Juneau resident and owner of the Caribous Crossing shop downtown, called the news “devastating” in a phone interview Thursday afternoon, but added it’s not completely surprising.

“I could not have my business financially prepared for this, but I’m not completely surprised,” she said. “I thought the CDC would be the biggest barrier. There are lots of workarounds that could have protected Canada. I’ve always thought of Canada as our friends and neighbors and I wonder if they know what this does to Alaska’s people, especially the little guy. That part was a big shock,” she said.

Martinson said that losing cruise ship passengers for a second year could permanently change Juneau’s small business landscape.

Amid COVID, cruise season planning is off to a slow start

“We are a town of 32,000 people, and our local businesses can’t exist without cruise ships,” she said, noting her concern that over-inflated rent in the downtown area could lead to landlords who can’t pay property taxes, putting the City and Borough of Juneau in a tough revenue spot.

“It’s hard to look ahead. When you lose cruise visitors for two years, who replaces the small businesses, you lose? Who takes their place? If our small businesses fail, I don’t think that leaves a community anyone is looking forward to. This is a call to arms to get our city, state, and federal officials together. If we don’t make it, the face of our community is changed immensely,” she said.

City hall reacts

Mayor Beth Weldon said in a phone interview early Thursday evening she wasn’t surprised by the news.

“All through this pandemic, Canada has been very cautious. This is another step in their caution,” she said. “We don’t see this as a big surprise but as a hurdle that needs to be overcome to bring cruise ship passengers back. We have already reached out to our federal delegation and other officials to see what we can do.”

CBJ City Manager Rorie Watt in a Thursday afternoon phone interview said that he was taking in the news and considering the impact that it could have on municipal budgets.

“We are digesting it,” Watt said. “There’s lots of concern for people economically connected to the industry. The news over the last two months on cruise ships has been trending more and more negative. We figured Canada would extend their current ban, but a yearlong ban is unexpected.”

“Everyone is trying to figure this out. It’s tough to budget,” Watt added. Watt pointed out that the Canadian government’s announcement included a clause that the ban could be reassessed.

“There are still a lot of wild cards. It’s back to the big COVID questions, like how well we are doing with vaccines here and in Canada,” Watt said.

Members of Alaska’s federal delegation expressed concern over Canada’s announcement and said that they would jointly issue an official statement Thursday night. As of 5:30 p.m., the statement had not been released.

Zack Brown, press secretary for Rep. Don Young, said that Young had shared a letter with Jeffrey Zients, counselor to President Joe Biden and a COVID-19 Response team member.

The letter urges the administration to take action to make it possible for cruising to resume.

It reads: “It is important to point out that cruise ships are not uniquely a source of COVID-19 spread. Throughout the pandemic, other modes of transportation, including planes, trains and buses have been allowed to operate without federal shutdown orders. Similarly, across the country, other hospitality sectors, including hotels, casinos and resorts have not been forced to close or shutdown. If safe ways can be found to continue to operate planes, trains, buses, hotels, and casinos, then let’s work together to find safe ways to operate cruise ships.”

In addition, Young’s letter shared concern over the impact the cruise ban could have on Alaska’s economy and Alaska Native communities and businesses.

“In keeping with the Biden Administration’s laudable commitment to prioritizing indigenous and historically disadvantaged communities, it is imperative the federal government inaction not compound the pandemic’s impacts and that the federal government dedicate time and attention to working with the industry to safely resume operations,” the letter reads.

The Cruise Lines International Association said in a Thursday afternoon statement that its members would work closely with government officials to consider all options.

“The industry may consider asking for temporary relief from the Passenger Vessel Services Act,” the statement said.

According to the statement, “prior to the pandemic, the cruise industry contributed $1.3 billion in direct spend to Alaska and generated 23,000 jobs, representing $1.2 billion in total wages and salaries.

The cruise industry is vital to Alaska’s economy, and we will continue to work productively to operationalize a path forward that will put people back to work and help fuel the economic recovery from the pandemic.”

•Contact Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891. The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.

More in News

Trees with fall colors populate the Shqui Tsatnu Creek gully as seen from Fourth Avenue on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai to use $770k in grants to remove hazard trees along Shqui Tsatnu Creek

The money will be used to mitigate hazards caused by dead and dying spruce trees over more than 100 acres of city land

Alaska state Rep. David Eastman, a Wasilla Republican, is shown seated on the House floor on April 29, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)
Alaska judge keeps Oath Keepers lawmaker on November ballot

Judge Jack McKenna on Thursday ordered elections officials to delay certifying the result of that particular race

An image purportedly from the computer screen of a digital media specialist for Gov. Mike Dunleavy shows numerous files and folders of campaign advertising. A complaint filed against the governor, plus other individuals and organizations, claims administrative staff is illegally doing paid campaign work on behalf of the governor. (Screenshot from complaint filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission)
Dunleavy faces more accusations in campaign complaint

Governor calls it “specious and unfounded.”

A recent photo of Anesha "Duffy" Murnane, missing since Oct. 17, 2019, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo provided, Homer Police Department)
A 2019 photo of Anesha “Duffy” Murnane, who went missing since Oct. 17, 2019, in Homer. (Photo provided, Homer Police Department)
Calderwood indicted for murder

Indictment charges man accused of killing Anesha “Duffy” Murnane with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault.

Triumvirate Theatre is seen on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, in Nikiski, Alaska. The building burned in a fire on Feb. 20 of that year. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai council gives Triumvirate more time to build theater

The Kenai City Council voted last summer to conditionally donate a 2-acre parcel of city land near Daubenspeck Park and the Kenai Walmart

Leaves fall at the Kenai Senior Center on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Senior Center makes plans for $715,000 endowment

The money comes from the Tamara Diane Cone Testamentary Trust

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire
On Thursday morning at what police described as an active crime scene, JPD Officer Austin Thomas and Officer Taylor Davis walk the fielded area which was blocked off by crime scene tape. Multiple tents and a police vehicle sat in the field where the tape surrounded, another police vehicle sat in a dirt parking area.
No arrests made as Juneau death investigation continues

Shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday that a woman’s body was found

Damage from the remnants of typhoon Merbok can be seen in Golovin, Alaska, on Sept. 20, 2022. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has requested a federal disaster declaration for areas in western Alaska affected by the storm. (Photo by Jeremy Cubas/Office of the Governor)
Damage from the remnants of typhoon Merbok can be seen in Golovin, Alaska, on Sept. 20, 2022. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has requested a federal disaster declaration for areas in western Alaska affected by the storm. (Photo by Jeremy Cubas/Office of the Governor)
Repair work begins in some Alaska towns slammed by storm

About 21,000 people living along a 1,000-mile stretch of Alaska’s western coast were affected by the storm

Camille Broussard testifies in support of an advisory planning commission in Nikiski during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly approves advisory planning commission for Nikiski

The commission area as petitioned and approved covers just over 3.5 million acres

Most Read