The Holland America Line cruise ships Eurodam, left, and Nieuw Amsterdam pull into Juneau’s downtown harbor on May 1, 2017. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

The Holland America Line cruise ships Eurodam, left, and Nieuw Amsterdam pull into Juneau’s downtown harbor on May 1, 2017. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Why there are no cruise ships coming and how to fix it

Don’t blame Canada. Blame presidents and lawmakers.

  • Thursday, February 25, 2021 12:10am
  • Opinion

By Jeffrey G Moebus

Why — as it stands right now — are there no cruise ships coming to Southeast Alaska in 2021?

Is it because Canada ~ due to COVID-19 concerns ~ will not allow these ships traveling between the Lower 48 and Alaska to stop in a Canadian port along the way? But why would that interfere with luxury liners traveling directly from, say, Seattle to Ketchikan and beyond, with no interim stops?

Well, you see, there’s this federal law passed in 1886 called the Passenger Vessel Services Act that requires that the transportation of waterborne passengers between U.S. ports be “limited to vessels that are U.S.-registered, U.S.-built, and mostly U.S.-crewed and owned.”

Given that there are no U.S.-built, -registered, or mostly -crewed and owned cruise ships in the fleet in question, every such vessel going from the West Coast to Alaska (and vice versa) must stop in a foreign nation port so as to be in compliance with the PVSA. Fortunately, Canada is along the way, eliminating the need to go to or from Alaska from or to Outside via Mexico or Siberia.

So don’t blame Canada for the lack of cruise ships in the Southeast this summer. Blame the 49th Congress of the United States that passed the PVSA way back when; and then the 22nd President Grover Cleveland, who signed it into law.

But more relevantly, blame every vested interest — predominantly the American ship building industry and its subsidiary pilotage and crew organized labor institutions — that has successfully fought every attempt to repeal the PVSA (along with its big brother, the Jones Act), thus making pit stops in Canada between Ketchikan and Seattle mandatory for cruise ships.

And then, more specifically, blame every subsequent U.S. Congress for obediently following the paid-for directives of those investing, thus in-vested vested interests. Including the 1920 Jones Act, being that action by this government which provided and still provides similar Progressive Era nationalistic, mercantilist, protectionist mandates for all cargo, as opposed to passenger, transport between U.S. ports, as well.

And most specifically and importantly for Alaskans, while you’re at all that, then ask Alaska’s Congressional delegation when they plan to actually, really do something — anything — at all about all this; and what?

Beyond, that is, issuing a formal joint statement that the Canadian action is “unacceptable,” and promising to explore “all potential avenues, including changing existing laws”?

How about getting President Biden to issue an executive order either revoking or at least temporarily suspending the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 so that all cruise ships departing the Lower 48 can begin to proceed directly to Alaska and vice versa? That would fix the problem immediately, and could happen in time to perhaps salvage at least part of this season.

At this point, the biggest objection to such an order would probably come from Canada, fearing that the temporary bypass by ships going north and south to and from Alaska could become permanent when everybody figures out just exactly what the PVSA is all about, and, specifically, Cui bono? And Cui malo? Who benefits? And who pays?

If this statement makes any sense to you — as an American, as an Alaskan, as a Juneauite, and as a rational human being seeking to begin to understand why things are so screwed up in this country and what can be done about it — then let Lisa, Dan and Don know exactly how you feel and what you think. Share it with any other Alaskans or Americans who you think it might make sense to, as well.

If, in your estimate, this assessment as to why there are no cruise ships in Alaska this summer, and how to immediately fix that problem, is wrong, then please explain exactly how and why. And what your solution to that problem is.

Jeffrey G Moebus is a retired U.S. Army master sergeant. Moebus resides in Sitka.

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