A fishing vessel is dwarfed by the Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Pearl in Juneau’s downtown harbor in September 2014. The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill that could allow cruise ships to come to Alaska. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

A fishing vessel is dwarfed by the Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Pearl in Juneau’s downtown harbor in September 2014. The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill that could allow cruise ships to come to Alaska. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

U.S. Senate passes bill that could allow cruise ships to come to Alaska

It now heads to the House.

The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Thursday that would allow cruise ships to come to Alaska despite Canada’s ongoing cruise ship ban.

The bill, known as the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, provides a workaround for the federal law that ordinarily prevents foreign-flagged cruises hips from taking tourists from one U.S. port to another without first stopping at a foreign port.

The workaround would be in place for the duration of Canada’s cruise ban, according to a joint news release from Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both Alaska Republicans, who sponsored the bill, which passed with unanimous consent.

The bill will next head to the House of Representatives.

Finding a way to salvage the 2021 cruise season has been a stated priority by all members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, which also includes Republican Rep. Don Young.

“Senate passage of my legislation sends a strong signal that we will not stand idly by, withering on the vine, until another country catches up to our level of readiness. This shows that the health and restoration of our economy cannot be held up by Canada, especially since Alaska has led with vaccinations in the country and our communities are ready to welcome visitors back,” Murkowski said in a statement. “Unanimous agreement in the Senate on this bill provides certainty and opportunity for cruise companies to resume sailing to Alaska, as they have for so many years—and more importantly, helps safeguard the livelihoods of Alaskan-owned small businesses, and entire communities, that serve these cruise passengers.”

Murkowski thanked Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; and Mike Lee, R-Utah; for working on a path forward for the bill. Sullivan in a statement also thanked his colleagues in the Senate.

“The passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act today is an example of the U.S. Senate working at its best,” Sullivan said. “This is an important step forward, but we still have more work to do. Congressman Don Young, the dean of the House and a great advocate for Alaska, will be working with his colleagues to quickly get the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act through the House. And, we’re continuing to work around the clock with CDC leaders to finally issue workable guidance that allows the cruise lines and coastal communities to safely welcome visitors again.”

The bill passing the U.S. Senate received a warm response from state Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka. The state Legislature passed a joint resolution urging action to allow cruise ships to come to Alaska. It was sponsored by state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, and had more than a dozen co-sponsors.

[State House OKs resolution urging federal action to allow cruise ships to come to Alaska]

“Thanks to the hard work of Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Dan Sullivan, Alaska’s tourism industry has a fighting chance,” Stedman said in a statement. “Swift passage of the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act through Congress has the potential to not only jumpstart Southeast Alaska’s economic recovery, but provide significant benefit to the whole state.”

Alaska’s U.S. senators weren’t the only members of its congressional delegation to take cruise-related action.

Young on Thursday sent a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that called for a temporary exemption to the same law the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act targets.

“The importance of the cruise industry to Alaska is well documented as more than 60% of visitors to Alaska every year arrive by cruise ship,” Young said in the letter. “The loss of two consecutive Alaskan cruise seasons equates to a potential economic loss of nearly $3.4 billion for our state, according to a recent report from Governor Dunleavy’s office.”

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt

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