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Canada’s port closures because of coronavirus may end Alaska big-ship cruises

Princess Cruises 50th Year of Alaska Cruises
The Alaska cruise season for larger vessels could be in jeopardy because of Canada’s announcement of the closure of ports to vessels larger than 500 passengers.
(Princess Cruises)

Canada will close its ports to vessels carrying more than 500 passengers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday, and that will affect at least part of the prime Alaska cruise season.

“Cruise season is suspended until July,” Trudeau said in a public address.

Most Alaskan cruises depart from U.S. ports, but laws require all ships flying a foreign flag — and that is most cruise ships — to call on a foreign port before returning to a port in the country of origin.

This means Alaskan cruises embarking from a U.S. port must stop in a foreign port — usually Vancouver or Victoria in Canada — to comply with what are known as “cabotage” laws. Outside of Canada, the closest foreign port for an Alaskan cruise is Ensenada, Mexico.

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Vessels flagged in the U.S. are not required to stop in a foreign port; only one large cruise ship is U.S.-flagged: Norwegian’s Pride of America, which is home-ported in Hawaii year-round.

Cruises sailing between New England and Montreal through June — about three dozen in total — will be affected by the announcement.

The order is designed to slow the transmission in Canada of the coronavirus and COVID-19, and applies to ships carrying 500 or more passengers. Many cruises to Alaska are on ships that carry more than 2,000 passengers, and it is expected that most cruises will be canceled or will sail with substantially revised itineraries.

More than 200 embarkations are scheduled for Alaska in May, the start of the state’s important cruise season, and June, a prime time for such trips. Most are on ships carrying more than 500 passengers.

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“Alaska’s tourism industry is obviously closely tied to large-ship cruising,” said Sarah Leonard, the president and chief executive of the Alaska Travel Industry Assn. “The recent news out of Canada is concerning and will impact many businesses.”

Leonard said that some small-vessel companies based in Southeast Alaska would not be affected by the Canadian port closures. This includes the fleet of Alaskan Dream Cruises, operating out of Sitka, Alaska, American Cruise Lines, sailing out of Juneau, and UnCruise Adventures, operating out of Seattle.

A few ships from mainstream cruise lines are small enough to operate their currently scheduled itineraries in Alaska, including 450-passenger Seabourn Sojourn and Windstar’s 212-passenger Star Breeze.

The Alaskan cruise season has been strong the last few year as new cruise lines and bigger ships have begun sailing the Inside Passage.

After a record 2019 season, Cruise Lines International Assn. Alaska was projecting 1.44 million cruise passengers for 2020, a 6% increase from last year.


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