Unless something changes at the federal level, Juneau's waterfront may be devoid of cruise ships for another summer. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Opinion: Why are there still no cruise ships?

Can You spell P-V-S-A-E-x-e-m-p-t-i-o-n?

  • Saturday, April 3, 2021 10:23pm
  • Opinion

On Feb. 22, the Juneau Empire kindly posted my opinion piece “Why there are no cruise ships coming and how to fix it,” which explained why there are no cruise ships coming to Southeast Alaska this year, and offered a couple of alternative fixes to change that.

No ships are coming because of the Passenger Vessel Services Act, an 1886 law that requires them to stop in a foreign port on trips between Alaska and the West Coast. Fortunately, Canada is along the way, eliminating the need to go to or from Alaska from or to the Lower 48 via Mexico or Siberia. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 concerns, Canadian ports are closed to all passenger ships coming from American ports.

So the problem is not Canada, but a law passed 19 years after Alaska became a U.S. territory designed to protect America’s then-nascent shipping industry interests: builders, owners and crews.

The alternative solutions proposed were:

1. Congress passes a law either suspending or revoking the PVSA (sneaking it into the recent $1.9 trillion stimulus, relief bill was suggested); or,

2. President Joe Biden issues an executive order that “Suspends, With Intent To Revoke” the PVSA, and challenges anybody in Congress or elsewhere to do anything about it.

Two days after the Empire posted my thoughts, Congressman Don Young introduced the “Alaska Tourism Recovery Act” in the House of Representatives, which was that day referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the next day referred to the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. On March 5, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan introduced the same bill in the Senate.

According to Cruise Industry News, there is at present “No Vote Scheduled on Bill That Could Help Save the Alaska Cruise Season.” And there is no report of any activity whatsoever from the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

All of which means that cruise ships are no closer to coming to Alaska this summer than they were a month ago. And that, if the only hope for changing that is the ATRA, summer 2021 can very probably be written off as a repeat of summer 2020 — at least as far as the people in and affected by the cruise ship industry in Alaska are concerned.

Which leaves Option 2, above, as clearly the logical, sensible, sane, intelligent, and thus obviously the quickest, easiest, cheapest, simplest and best solution: an executive order from President Biden. The whole problem could be solved with the simple stroke of a pen. That would also be one way for Biden to get some early support up here for 2024, eh?

Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan and Congressman Young could make themselves actually useful to Alaskans by doing exactly that: bringing Congressional pressure to bear on the White House for that executive order. And Alaskans who are concerned about the cruise ship ban could help make that executive order happen by letting our delegation in D.C. know exactly what they think.

Another option that should be very seriously pondered by concerned Alaskans and their government in Juneau is to emulate Florida: “Florida to feds: Allow cruise ships to operate or we’ll sue.” Florida is considering and publicly threatening suing the federal government if it does not lift its ban on cruise ships going to and from Florida. Such an option certainly exists for Alaska, may one not presume? Somebody in Alaska — in the state government and the tourism sector — needs to give serious consideration to following Florida and challenging the PVSA in court.

To reduce the issue to its simplest terms: Why don’t cruise ships going between Los Angeles and Hawaii have to stop in Mexico en route? Or, why don’t those going between Miami and Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands have to stop in Cuba, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, or Haiti?

Can You spell P-V-S-A-E-x-e-m-p-t-i-o-n? It is really no more complicated than that, and the solution is just as simple.

Jeffrey G. Moebus is a retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant living in Sitka.

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