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Congressman Don Young Sends Letter to DHS Secretary Mayorkas Urging Emergency Support and Coordination with the Canadian Government to Save Alaska’s 2021 Cruise Season

Washington, D.C. Today, Alaska Congressman Don Young sent a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, requesting emergency assistance on behalf of the 23,000 workers employed by the Alaska tourism industry. These workers and the businesses that employ them are currently facing economic ruin following Canada’s decision to close its ports, in addition to the ongoing challenges presented by the Centers for Disease Control’s Conditional Sail Order (CSO), which unless remedied, will effectively cancel a second consecutive summer cruise season. In the letter, Congressman Young calls for a temporary exemption to the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA), which would allow cruise ships to make “technical stops” in Canada, meeting the requirements of the PVSA without requiring that passengers disembark the vessel. Should the Secretary decide to provide and prioritize relief for Alaska-bound large cruise vessels from the PVSA, this would solve a significant hurdle for the return of cruising to Alaska. At the same time, the Delegation continues working diligently with the CDC and industry leaders to find a path forward under the CSO. For the full letter, click here.

Excerpts from the letter:

I write to you on a matter of extreme urgency for the state of Alaska on behalf of the many businesses and more than 23,000 workers in Alaska that rely on cruise visitors for their livelihoods. Public Health conditions across the United States are improving and the country is reopening, but Alaska will lose a second consecutive summer cruise season without immediate collaboration and cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transport Canada (TC) to find a mutually acceptable solution that satisfies the requirements of the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA).

Every day that passes without resolution means that the relatively short Alaskan summer cruise season, which ends in early fall, is in jeopardy of cancellation. Alaska, unlike other states in the lower 48 where cruising can take place year-round, cannot afford to wait any longer for a solution to the PVSA question. 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. 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.

In times of national emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, there is precedent for the Secretary of Homeland Security to grant exceptions to the PVSA. For example, during the swine flu in 2009, United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) informally agreed that cruise ships did not need to make a port call in Mexico if they believed it was unsafe. Similar exemptions have been made on the account of weather.

Moreover, I understand that there remains no formal rule, policy, or criteria on what qualifies as a foreign port call for the purposes of PVSA compliance. This provides flexibility in determining what conditions may be used for Alaska cruises to satisfy PVSA requirements in this extreme circumstance. I believe there is a strong case to be made that a “technical stop”, which is generally understood to mean a call at a foreign port whereby a vessel clears customs formalities and may take on fuel and stores, but does not disembark passengers, meets the requirements of the PVSA.”

The full letter to Secretary Mayorkas can be found here.

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